In February 2015, lawyers at M&S took up the case of former “Young & the Restless” actress Victoria Rowell, whose battle for more diversity at CBS she claimed, resulted in the network blocking her return to the soap opera where she worked for 17 years. Rowell sued CBS and Sony, which aired and produced the soap opera, claiming her efforts to be re-employed on the daytime drama were denied based on her years advocating for an increase of diversity on set and behind the camera. The case was litigated in the Central District of California.
For years, Victoria Rowell played the popular character Drucilla Barber Winters, garnering two Daytime Emmy nominations and 11 NAACP Image awards. African American women make up approximately 40 percent of the audience for daytime dramas, and among that audience, “Young & the Restless” is the number one-rated program. Yet a New York Times analysis found that CBS grew increasingly less diverse in the early years of the 21st century.
Discussing the case, M&S Partner Cyrus Mehri told the Washington Post:
“Ms. Rowell made Drucilla Winters one of the most compelling characters ever to appear on daytime television. In refusing to reemploy her, the defendants aren’t just hurting Ms. Rowell,” said Cyrus Mehri, Rowell’s D.C.-based lawyer. “They’re acting against their own economic self-interest.”
The case ended in a confidential settlement. The complaint garnered national and international press attention, with Victoria Rowell claiming victory in the (UK-based) Daily Mail, noting, “As for winning, I have won, exposing this unacceptable racist and retaliatory behavior in 21st century America.”
The complaint also prompted two Change.org petitions urging CBS, Sony and lead advertiser Procter and Gamble to take steps to increase diversity in on-air programming as well as in the control room. Those petitions can be found here and here.