I've been meaning to sit down and write this post for a few days now.
Are you ready for this? It took some effort, but I finally got my hands on a copy of Millenia Black's
(aka Nadine Aldred) lawsuit against Penguin Group. My curiosity was at an all-time high and I was in NYC last month on business so I figured, why not? Let's see what exactly is before the court.
Without reciting the entire complaint, I'll skip through and share the sections/allegations that I find most notable. It's pretty heavy stuff, folks. Here goes........
"This case involves racial discrimination by Signet, a Division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., and by Penguin Group (USA) Inc., against Nadine Aldred, an author who writes under the pen name Millenia Black, in the making and enjoyment of all the benefits, privileges, terms and conditions of a publishing contract. Defendants have engaged in discriminatory conduct in violation of federal and state law, as well as misleading advertising in violation of the Lanham Act and violations of New York State common law."
8. In or about September of 2002, plaintiff Aldred self-published her first novel, entitled The Great Pretender, under the pen name Millenia Black. The work of fiction centers around the topic of marital infidelity, and contains an additional subtle component, in that all of its subject matter and characters are devoid of racial characteristics.
9. The cover art for the self-published version of The Great Pretender shows two wedding bands in flames and does not portray any people.
10. Aldred is not described by race anywhere in the self-published version of The Great Pretender and neither does her photograph appear.
11. After it was self-published as mainstream fiction/literature, The Great Pretender was well-reviewed, began to sell nationally in bookstores, garnered several inquiries for the sale of foreign rights and film rights, and garnered the sales of translation rights to publishers in Turkey and Poland.
12. In the latter half of December 2004, and as a direct result of the successful marketing of the self-published edition of The Great Pretender, Penguin became interested in Aldred’s current and future work.
16. On information and belief, defendants’ employee and agent, Kara Cesare, who was assigned by Penguin to be Aldred’s editor, asked plaintiff’s agent, Sara Camilli, whether she had ever met Aldred in person and whether Aldred was black or white. Camilli responded that Aldred is black.
17. For its version of The Great Pretender, Penguin revised the original cover art by superimposing two non-white women over the image of the burning wedding bands. Penguin published and marketed The Great Pretender using the revised cover art.
18. Plaintiff objected to the use of false racial identifiers on the cover art of The Great Pretender, but Penguin published the work as such over Aldred’s objections.
19. Although The Great Pretender contains no racial classifications of its characters, for the purposes of distribution and marketing, Penguin classified and styled the novel as African American fiction/literature and marketed the work as such to bookstores and the general public.
20. On information and belief, the classification African American fiction/literature is generally understood by the public to refer to the content and subject matter of the work.
21. On information and belief, novels classified and styled as African American fiction/literature are generally understood by the public to target a smaller audience than novels classified as general fiction.
22. On information and belief, novels classified and styled as African American fiction/literature are typically purchased by a predominantly black, minority audience.
23 . On information and belief, novels classified and styled as African American fiction/literature are not typically purchased by a white, majority audience.
24. On information and belief, novels classified and styled as African American fiction/literature are marketed to a predominantly black, minority audience.
25. On information and belief, the subject matter of infidelity is understood by the general public to be a universal topic.
26. Penguin classified, styled and marketed The Great Pretender as African American fiction/literature based solely on Aldred’s race, and without regard to the subject matter of the novel.
27. Aldred objected to such misclassification, but defendants refused to re-classify the book.
28. On information and belief, Penguin would not have classified, styled and marketed the work of a white author as African American fiction/literature if such work’s content and subject matter had been racially neutral.
29. On information and belief, if The Great Pretender had been written by a white author, Penguin would not have classified the work as African American fiction/literature.
30. On information and belief, if The Great Pretender had been written by a white author, Penguin would not have altered the cover art to add women of color.
31. On information and belief, Penguin knowingly and intentionally treated plaintiff Aldred differently from white authors due to Aldred’s race.
32. On information and belief, as a result of defendants’ conduct, The Great Pretender was deprived of many commercial, mainstream marketing opportunities.
43. The Great Betrayal focuses on marital infidelity and family secrets. As initially written by Aldred, The Great Betrayal’s characters are described as white.
44. After reviewing the manuscript, Penguin demanded that Aldred re-write the characters so as to render them African American or race-neutral.
45. Thereafter, Penguin showed Aldred its intended cover art, which portrayed an unmade bed with the face of an African American woman and the back of an African American man superimposed above it.
46. On information and belief, Penguin intended to classify and style The Great Betrayal as African American fiction/literature, based solely on plaintiff’s race and without regard to the subject matter of the book.
47. On information and belief, Penguin intended to market The Great Betrayal with the African American fiction/literature designation, which it knew would have the same limiting effects as the designation has on The Great Pretender.
48. On information and belief, if The Great Betrayal had been written by a white author, Penguin would not have demanded that the author edit the white characters to render them black or race neutral.
49. On information and belief, if The Great Betrayal had been written by a white author, Penguin would not have placed an African American couple on the cover.
50. On information and belief, if The Great Betrayal had been written by a white author, Penguin would not have planned to classify the book as African American fiction/literature.
51. On information and belief, defendant Penguin knowingly and intentionally treated plaintiff Aldred differently from white authors due to Aldred’s race.
52. After plaintiff threatened to sue Penguin for racial discrimination, Penguin withdrew its demand that Aldred rewrite the work to change the race of the characters, and advised that it would remove the African American couple from the cover art.
53. Despite these representations, Penguin sent the cover art with the African American couple to African American Web sites including, but not limited to, Urban-Reviews.com, and retailers including, but not limited to, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both of whose Web sites advertised The Great Betrayal for pre-order with the misleading cover art for several weeks.
54. On information and belief, advance sales of The Great Betrayal have been negatively impacted, and Aldred will continue to experience economic harm as a result of such false and misleading advertising.
55. On information and belief, a white author would not have been subjected to such racially discriminatory treatment by Penguin.
FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION
58. Plaintiff repeats and re-alleges the allegations contained in paragraphs 1-57 as if fully set forth herein.
60. Defendants violated plaintiff’s rights to make and enforce contracts without regard to race, as guaranteed by 42 U.S.C. §1981.
SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION
62. Defendants engaged and continue to engage in false and/or misleading descriptions of fact and false and/or misleading representations of fact with regard to The Great Betrayal as more fully set forth above.
63. Defendants engaged and continue to engage in false and/or misleading descriptions of fact and false and/or misleading representations of fact with regard to The Great Pretender as more fully set forth above.
64. Defendants’ conduct, as more fully set forth above, violates the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1125(a).
66. Plaintiff was subjected to discrimination in her civil rights because of her race and color, as more fully set forth above.
67. Defendants’ conduct violated and continue to violate New York Civil Rights Law §40-c.
FOURTH CAUSE OF ACTION
70. Defendants violated the implied term of good faith and fair dealing in The Contract by, as more fully set forth above, treating plaintiff differently, based on her race, than they would have treated a white author with the same contract who had written the same books.
WHEREFORE, plaintiff respectfully requests that this Court:
D. Permanently enjoin defendants from further violating plaintiff’s rights, including, without limitation, not applying any racial designations to The Great Betrayal or any future work, and not engaging in any retaliation against Aldred;
E. Order defendants to re-publish The Great Pretender, forthwith under the following conditions: (i) a book cover with race-neutral art; (ii) classification of the work as mainstream/general fiction; (iii) a foreword containing an apology and explaining that the re-publication is due to the original misclassification and misrepresentation of the book as African American fiction/literature, and (iv) sufficient marketing resources for the re-publication of The Great Pretender to make plaintiff whole;
F. Award judgment for all the past and future economic losses suffered or to be suffered by plaintiff in the amount of $250,000,000.00.
Tell me that's not FASCINATING!! Me thinks one of two things: either 1) Millenia's got some legal experience or 2) an attorney wrote this complaint. I saw that Penguin had filed an answer in early December---but they did not move to dismiss. I didn't get a copy of the answer, I ran out of time. I figure someone else can dig up that piece of the pie; it would be awesome to see that as well.
I think this is extremely powerful stuff and speaks for itself. It definitely illustrates that the racial divide in the publishing world is very much a reality. Black authors aren't just bitching and moaning because they have nothing better to do. We're being marginalized and kept under a lid.
As you all know, I pray Millenia wins this lawsuit. I think I've said it before, that if she loses, it will mean publishers will have the legal
right to discriminate against authors, continuing to force us to write by race, stripping us of creative liberty. My hat's still off to this brave lady for sacrificing so much to take a stand. She may not get quarter of a billion dollars, she may not even win the lawsuit, but I'm willing to bet she's made a positive difference already.
Please, feel free to share your thoughts, one and all.