'Young and the Restless' Alum Victoria Rowell Sues CBS, Sony for Alleged Retaliation

Victoria Rowell says soap retaliated against her for claiming discrimination.

February 12, 2015, 4:36 PM
PHOTO: Actress Victoria Rowell arrives at The Alliance for Children's Rights 21st Annual Dinner, March 7, 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Actress Victoria Rowell arrives at The Alliance for Children's Rights 21st Annual Dinner, March 7, 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

Feb. 12, 2015— -- More trouble for Sony, as former longtime "Young and the Restless" star Victoria Rowell has filed suit against the entertainment company for alleged retaliation after she said she spoke out against what she described as discrimination at the popular soap.

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."

In a statement to ABC News, CBS wrote, "We were disappointed to learn that, after leaving the cast of 'The Young and the Restless' on her own initiative, Ms. Rowell has attempted to rewrite that history through lawyers' letters and a lawsuit that has no merit. We harbor no ill will toward Ms. Rowell, but we will vigorously defend this case."

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.

Rowell said after several years of speaking out about the lack of racial diversity on the show before and after she left, she sought to return to either "Young and the Restless" or its sister show, "The Bold and the Beautiful" in 2010.

She said her efforts were rebuffed every time, despite pleas from fans and high-powered friends, such as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and National Urban League President Marc Morial, to bring her back to the show.

"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."

Rowell also starred for eight seasons in "Diagnosis Murder," has appeared in films alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith and Bill Cosby, and is the author of a bestselling memoir and two popular novels about soap operas.