Fired Hot 97 Exec Claims Discrimination for Being ‘Too White’

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast

A white radio executive working at a top New York City hip-hop station claims his bosses told him he was “too white for the job,” and that he was humiliated live on the air by Funkmaster Flex, the station’s star DJ.

That’s according to a lawsuit obtained by The Daily Beast, in which Stanley Pillman III, the former VP of digital operations at Hot 97, claims he was fired by the station after reporting Flex for allegedly accepting kickbacks from advertisers.

“Pillman’s employment was terminated in retaliation for his protected complaints or on the basis of his race,” the suit contends.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court, accuses Hot 97’s parent company MediaCo Holding Inc. of retaliation and discrimination in violation of the state’s human rights and labor laws. Pillman is demanding his old job back, plus back pay, compensatory damages for emotional harm, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.

Reached by phone, Pillman declined to comment on the record. His attorney, Robert Valli, told The Daily Beast, “We investigated, and we determined, in our opinion, that there was retaliation for protected activity. Here, it’s discrimination and speaking out about what we claim to be protected activities.”

Representatives for Hot 97 and MediaCo did not respond to requests for comment.

Hot 97 was established in 1992 as “a pioneer in the world of urban radio,” and has gone on to feature well-known on-air personalities including Angie Martinez, Wendy Williams, and Funkmaster Flex, who has been with the station since 1993. He did not immediately respond to a voicemail on Monday afternoon.

Pillman was hired by Hot 97 in February 2021 as senior director of content and digital operations, quickly earning a promotion to vice president of digital operations and monetization just three months later, the lawsuit states.

Two years later, in January 2023, Pillman was called into a meeting with MediaCo CEO Rahsan-Rahsan Lindsay and COO/President Brad Tobin. “At this meeting Mr. Lindsay stated that there was a feeling around the office that [Pillman] did not know anything about hip-hop and needed to listen to the… station,” the lawsuit claims. “As the conversation continued, Pillman finally inquired, ‘Are you trying to say I am too white for the job?’ to which Mr. Lindsay replied, ‘Yes.’ Mr. Lindsay also stated that Pillman was a minority at this job.”

Last July, according to Pillman’s lawsuit, DJ/rapper/producer Funkmaster Flex, whose real name is Aston George Taylor, Jr., told a pair of Hot 97 employees that “the white boys are stealing from us.” This, Pillman claims, was a reference to him and Tobin, who is also white.

Pillman then informed the station’s HR department that Funkmaster Flex and Hot 97’s SVP of sales “were involved in potential kick-backs and theft of company funds,” the lawsuit claims. He accused the two of giving away “‘zero-dollar’ digital and on-air advertising… to clients without a contract and without collecting any fee,” the suit continues. In mid-August, Pillman’s lawyer followed up with a letter to MediaCo “complaining about Pillman being subject to workplace discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment.”

On Aug. 31, 2023, Pillman was let go, the lawsuit states. That same day, it alleges, Funkmaster Flex “stated on the air, ‘You’re a bozo, effective immediately,’ referring to Pillman and his termination letter.”

Pillman’s lawsuit further claims that he was “temporally [sic] replaced by a Hispanic Male and then permanently replaced by a Black Male.” It also claims Tobin was denied a contract renewal “and was replaced by a Black Male.”

MediaCo has not yet filed a response in court to Pillman’s allegations.

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