Crusader staff report
After weeks of threats, 38 freelance writers for Ebony filed a lawsuit against the iconic magazine on September 6 in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming they are owed $70,000 for their published work.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include writers, photographers, videographers and graphic designers, all of whom are represented by the National Writers Union. The defendants are Ebony Media and its parent company, Texas-based private equity firm CVG Group.
Chicago-based attorney Joshua File is representing the freelance writers.
According to the lawsuit, the freelancers were “regular contributors” to both Ebony and co-owned Jet magazine, but the publisher “failed and/or refused” to pay the amounts due for their work.
File said the freelancers had contracts to provide content or services but were never paid. According to File the freelancers each are owed anywhere from a couple of hundred to several thousand dollars. He said the final tally is to be determined in court.
Launched in 1945, Ebony is a monthly Black lifestyle magazine that documented and shaped Black culture at a time when most publications wouldn’t feature people of color on its pages. Owned by Johnson Publishing Company, Ebony in 2016 was sold to CVG Group for an undisclosed price.
In May, Ebony announced that it was cutting nearly a third of its staff and moving its editorial operations with its Jet digital publication to Los Angeles.
Michael Gibson, co-founder and chairman of CVG Group, in June originally blamed the unpaid freelance invoices on an accounting error, but then blamed the problems on Linda Johnson Rice, Ebony’s previous owner, the daughter of the magazine’s founder, John H. Johnson.
Gibson pledged to pay everyone “100 percent” of what was owed by the first week in July, but that never happened. The non-payment sparked a month long feud between Ebony and the National Writers Union, which demanded payment on behalf of Ebony’s freelance writers.
“Here’s about 40 freelancers that don’t have collective bargaining but are standing together as a union, and we’re going to get them paid,” said Larry Goldbetter, president of the New York-based union, which is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The freelancers aren’t the only ones seeking overdue payment from Ebony.
Houston-based events production company GVPmedia has been trying to get Ebony to pay a partially disputed balance for a Super Bowl party the magazine threw in February. The glitzy event, held at the Ballroom at Bayou Place in Houston, featured music, sports and entertainment stars, as well
as Gibson, Ebony Media CEO Linda Johnson Rice and other top Ebony brass.
GVP provided lighting, sound and a giant video wall, added at the last minute at the request of Ebony, said Gabby Schmees, the company’s director of business operations. She said Ebony paid $50,000 upfront for the lighting and sound but balked at the $13,000 bill for the video wall.
Reached by email on Wednesday, Schmees said the company is still waiting on payment but is “trying to recover” from Hurricane Harvey before determining its next steps.