Disorder in the Court? 'Judge Judy' Show Sued

Two former producers claim show was rife with discrimination against minorities.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 10:37 PM

Jan. 3, 2008 — -- Two longtime employees of a hard-driving boss claim their office was a toxic work environment rife with discrimination and that they were fired because they complained about it.

A case for "Judge Judy"? Or a case about "Judge Judy"?

Two of the nationally syndicated show's producers have filed separate lawsuits in the last two months against the show's production company, claiming that they were treated with less justice than most of the people who appeared before the wise-cracking TV judge.

One of the two staffers is Karen Needle, 54, a former associate producer, who claimed that she was wrongfully terminated because she was too old.

"There is a lot of terrible stuff going on if two people file separate lawsuits," plaintiff Karen Needle, a former associate producer on the show, told ABCNEWS.com. "It's a toxic situation over there. This is supposed to be Judge Judy, the voice of justice, and yet her own staff isn't treated well. What is she getting paid all that money for if her own staff is treated with such little decency?"

Needle's former colleague, Jonathan Sebastien, a former senior producer, also sued the show and its production companies in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that he was wrongfully fired after he complained that black litigants were being kept off the show. Judge Judy Scheindlin is not named as a defendant in either of the lawsuits, which seek unspecified damages.

The 37-year-old producer, who worked on the show for seven years, claims that his supervisor, Randy Douthit, who is a defendant in the case, screened out blacks. According to the complaint, Douthit told producers, "We're not doing any more black shows," and "I don't want to hear black people arguing" and "I don't want to hear no black language on the TV." Sebastien claims that when he presented possible cases to him, Douthit rejected them as "too ghetto."

Douthit, a veteran producer who helped launch CNN's "Crossfire" and "Larry King Live," allegedly told producers that they had to book "white, upscale, pretty people" and told Sebastien to send black litigants to the show led by African-American Judge Joe Brown, according to the complaint.

During a January 2007 meeting, Sebastien claims Douthit screamed at him, mocked him and called him a "f----- loser." Almost three months later, on March 30, Sebastien says he was told he was fired because ratings numbers were down on the shows he produced. But he claims that he was really fired because he opposed the show's "discriminatory selection process," according to the complaint.

That same day, Needle was also fired and she later sued the show and producers Randy Douthit and Tim Regler for unspecified damages. She says she was told that she was fired due to an "unspecified conflict from her audience work," according to her complaint.

Needle, who helped book audiences for the show, says she began suffering from back pain, sometimes even resorting to lying on the ground in pain, and when she asked her bosses for a new chair, nothing was done. Two weeks before she was fired, she took off four days to assist her ailing 88-year-old mother, according to the complaint.

Douthit, who is on vacation this week, was not available for comment. He has been credited for the show's high ratings.

"Randy is the choreographer of our program," Scheindlin told Broadcasting & Cable last year. "From day one, his wise judgment and television savvy have led our show to a super successful 11 years."

A show staffer dismissed the allegations. "These are two disgruntled former employees fired for cause because they were not performing their jobs," said the staffer. "Their allegations are without merit and ludicrous."

A spokesman for CBS Paramount declined comment due to the pending litigation.

Judge Scheindlin did not return calls for comment.