Rowell is suing the producers of the No. 1 daytime program, Sony Pictures Entertainment, its subsidiary, Sony Pictures Television, and Bell-Phillip Television Productions Inc., as well as CBS Corp., which airs it, claiming she was denied re-employment by "Young and the Restless" because of her public appeals to hire more African-Americans in front of and behind the camera.
In a news conference this morning, Rowell, 55, said, "This is not about me, but about the many, many other African-Americans denied the right to participate in front of and behind the camera on 'Young and the Restless.'"
"The retaliation is deep and broad, I have lived with it for many, many years," she said of the failed efforts to be rehired. "I’m not afraid, I am empowered. I am seeking justice."
Sony and Bell-Phillip did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Rowell joined the cast of "The Young and the Restless" as Drucilla Barber Winters in 1990, receiving 11 NAACP Image Awards for the role.
The actress said she not only helped grow African-American viewership, making it the No. 1 show among the 40 percent black female daytime soap audience, but helped create 12 other black full or recurring characters.
But she said she left the show in 2007 after years of experiencing what she says was racial discrimination on the set.
In the news conference, Rowell recalled some of the "horrific behavior" she said she endured, including being "spat upon," "told you’re a freak," "fined $20,000 for an alleged missed day of work" and being "told to keep price tags in my costume" so that they could be returned.
Producers sent her character over a cliff but left open the possibility that Dru was still alive.
"They have blocked the doorway to her success," one of her attorneys, Dan Stormer said during the news conference. "We have no alternative but to go to court."
In the 35-page complaint filed in federal district court in New York Tuesday, Rowell is asking for back pay and for her job to be reinstated or, in lieu of immediate re-employment, to be given front pay and considered for employment in the future.
She's also seeking "consequential and punitive damages" and attorneys’ fees.
Referring to recently hacked emails that revealed racially insensitive comments by the then head of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amy Pascal, Rowell said, "This is a great time to talk about healing, about real substantive opportunities in front of and behind the camera for African-Americans."