A little over two months after Ebony magazine missed its self-imposed deadline for paying the thousands of dollars it owes its writers, a group of 38 freelancers filed a lawsuit in Illinois’ Cook County Circuit Court on Tuesday alleging that they are collectively owed more than $70,000 for their work.
Ebony Media and its owner, Texas-based private equity firm CVG Group, are named in the lawsuit filed by a group of plaintiffs that includes writers, photographers, videographers and graphic designers, the Chicago Tribune reports. All of the plaintiffs are represented by the National Writers Union.
The lawsuit says that the freelancers worked for both Ebony and its sister publication, Jet magazine, but the publisher of both magazines “failed and/or refused” to pay the amounts due for their work.
Joshua File, a Chicago-based attorney who is representing the freelancers, told the Tribune that each of the freelancers was owed anywhere from a couple of hundred to several thousand dollars. The final tally will be determined in court.
“They had contracts to provide content or services, did that, and weren’t paid,” File said.
The news of Ebony not paying its writers was broken in April by writer Jagger Blaec, who wrote about it and told her story in The Establishment and later expanded upon it on The Root. More writers came forward to tell their stories using the hashtag #EbonyOwes on Twitter.
As the hashtag gained momentum, Ebony issued the following statement addressing the issue:
Ebony magazine values the work of our freelancers and writers. We understand their concerns and we know that their unique talent and dedication to telling our stories have been an integral part of our success. As a part of our strategic growth plan, EBONY Media is working diligently to streamline and improve efficiencies throughout our operations and we will honor our commitment to our partners.
Then, in early May, the magazine announced that it was laying off a third of its staff, shutting down its Chicago headquarters and consolidating editorial operations with Jet in Los Angeles. At that time, word spread of subscription holders saying that they had not received print copies of the magazine in the mail since November, although the magazine continued to appear on newsstands.
Michael Gibson, co-founder and chairman of CVG Group, blamed the subscription delivery delays on a change in printers.
Still, freelancers remained unpaid.
The #EbonyOwes hashtag continued to grow, and in late May, writers began reporting that Ebony was blocking them on Twitter for discussing the payment problems or asking about being paid.
In June, the National Writers Union stepped in on behalf of the freelancers and demanded that Ebony pay up.
On June 3, Ebony promised to have the payment issue resolved within 30 days. It ultimately missed its own promised deadline, and in a July press release, the National Writers Union said that it would be taking the publication to court over the unpaid invoices.
According to the Tribune, freelancers aren’t the only ones Ebony owes money.
GVP Media, a Houston-based events production company, says that Ebony owes it a partially disputed balance from a Super Bowl party the magazine threw in February.
It looks as if one of the most revered black publications in the world is going straight down the tubes in a blazing hot mess of a death.
Damn, Ebony. We were rooting for you.
Read more at the Chicago Tribune.