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Nielsen settles discrimination lawsuit with key Black executive

Nielsen Holdings has settled a racial discrimination lawsuit months after a longtime Black executive, Cheryl Grace, accused the global data and measurement company of fostering a racially hostile work environment.

As part of the agreement, both sides were not allowed to disclose the terms.

However, on March 18, Grace on social media announced her resignation from Nielsen and the launch of Powerful Penny, her own executive coaching and consulting firm.

Nielsen’s settlement with Grace ended a national protest by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Nielsen was accused of racial bias in promoting and keeping Black executives, based on Grace’s lawsuit. The SCLC launched a campaign to diversify America’s corporate boardrooms and executive ranks. “This is a breakthrough moment,” SCLC President and CEO Dr. Charles Steele said.

“We wrote to the chairman and CEO of Nielsen. We met with them via the internet, and we urged them to settle this lawsuit filed by Ms. Grace, and, in just a few months, Nielsen has decided to resolve it. I commend Nielsen for doing the right thing. I think they took the SCLC and the movement very seriously. We followed the six steps of direct action as introduced by Dr. King, which is still effective today.”

In February, the SCLC organized a protest outside Nielsen’s office in the Loop, but it was cancelled because of a winter blizzard. Nielsen reportedly ended negotiation talks with Grace after the SCLC launch-ed the national protest against the company.

Nielsen maintained that Grace’s lawsuit had no merit. Last month, a spokesperson at Nielsen said ‘the company has not discriminated or retaliated against Ms. Grace in any way. Nielsen believes that fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our workforce and products is the right thing to do, and crucial to the success of our business and all businesses.”

Nielsen collects data on consumer spending habits and produces audience ratings of television shows that help networks and local stations set advertising rates.

Grace, who served as Nielsen’s senior vice president of global marketing, shopper and consumer engagement, worked at the company for 16 years. At Nielsen, she was credited with creating the company’s annual reports that spotlight the multi-billion-dollar spending power of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. During these efforts, Grace became the national face in promoting multicultural consumer relations, and she became a respected and trusted source among national Black organizations.

Black-owned media companies and Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU’s) have used the reports to secure funding for programs and services that address poverty and nurture the development of future Black leaders.

Despite these achievements and consistently high performance, Grace, in her lawsuit against Nielsen, said racial bias had blocked her efforts in climbing the ranks and entry into the C-Suite. Grace said she held her senior vice president role for 13 out of the 16 years she worked at Nielsen citing numerous failed attempts to be promoted higher.

After sharing her concerns with CEO and chief diversity officer David Kenny, Grace alleged that Nielsen marginalized her as she struggled to work in a hostile work environment. Two months after Grace filed her lawsuit against Nielsen, the SCLC in December launched a national campaign called “From the Streets to the Suites,” targeting corporations that have been hit with discrimination lawsuits. The campaign aimed to bring both sides to the table to resolve issues and to change a corporate culture that has been known for systemic racism. Nielsen was the first of the companies targeted by the SCLC.

The SCLC based its campaign on a 2019 report from that reported 99 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies have made payments to plaintiffs in at least one employment discrimination or harassment lawsuit since 2000.

Most of the suits ended in confidential settlements, according to the report.

In cases involving 189 Fortune 500 companies, about $1.9 billion in settlements was paid. In 238 cases resolved by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, $356 million in settlements was paid, and 1.5 billion was paid in 176 private lawsuits.

“Those corporations are doing what they should have been doing,” Steele said. “But the Streets to the Suites Initiative is to monitor those corporations and make sure they are delivering on their commitments, and it is to place the spotlight on other corporations that refuse to do what is right when it comes to being fair and just to all of its employees and consumers.”

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