BET Programming Head Fired While on Leave for Breast Cancer

Stephen Hill Zola Mashariki
REX/Shutterstock

BET announced the departure of two of its top executives this week: its longtime president Stephen Hill and head of original programming Zola Mashariki.

Hill, a prominent fixture at BET since 1999 known for close his relationships to talent, issued a hasty farewell email. Insiders say he was fired abruptly from the Viacom-owned network, for reasons that still remain unclear.

But according to sources with knowledge of internal discussions, Mashariki was caught off guard by public statements issued by the network and its CEO Debra Lee, which indicated she was out too. Mashariki sent her colleagues an email this week, notifying them that she’s been on medical leave since February after being diagnosed with breast cancer and that she planned on returning to her job.

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A spokesperson for BET said that she’s no longer employed. “These claims misrepresent the facts and are without merit,” the rep told Variety. “We strongly deny any allegation of wrongdoing.”

Mashariki and her lawyer didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“I’m concerned that there was a reference to me, as Stephen’s departure is a separate issue from my status at the company,” Mashariki wrote in an email obtained by Variety that she sent to more than 40 colleagues after Wednesday’s statement. She said that she’d just undergone “another surgery.”

“It’s a painful recovery for me,” she wrote. “It has also been hard on my children.”

“Here are the facts,” Mashariki continued. “My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return ‪on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery.”

“Bob Bakish”—she said, in reference to the CEO of Viacom Inc.—“has said our company values should be honesty, empathy and bravery. I agree with this wholeheartedly and our team has embodied this over the 2 years we have worked together. Without question, including me in Stephen’s departure announcement in not in keeping with those values.”

She ended her note to her colleagues by suggesting that she would like to come back to work. “I have faith in the Viacom/BET leadership and know they will fix this,” she wrote. “Our Original Programming team has accomplished a lot in a short time and the filmmakers and community are excited to work with us again. There is so much more to do.”

Mashariki joined BET in April 2015, after 15 years as a production executive at Fox Searchlight. She’s worked on such art-house hits like “The Last King of Scotland” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

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  1. Nilka B BELL says:

    REALLY,BET! YOU FIRE SOMEONE, WHEN THEY ARE DEALING WITH A HEALTH CRISIS.
    HAVE YOU, NO COMPASSION!!! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF. I AM SURE IT AS ALL ABOUT MONEY!!!.

  2. Stephanie Young says:

    When a person down you keep them down smfh BET you behaving like Trump not nice.

  3. Kim simmons says:

    Wow. I won’t be watching BET again anytime soon and have notified all the groups I am involved with of this hideous, appalling and atrocious behavior. I am hoping Samantha Bee and others cover this. You really fired a woman undergoing surgery and treatment for breast cancer.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Wow.
    BET is finally offering more original programming than Being Mary Jane. The original programming seems to have come out of a very long slump. The New Edition Story,for example, garners rave reviews. Yet they terminate this woman while she is on Medical Leave battling cancer?!
    Not a good look BET.

  5. Absolutely horrible and I hope Ms. Mashariki and her family prevail in a court of law. Because that’s where this is headed.

  6. Keith says:

    Maybe the 3 hours movies will now go back to their normal time.

  7. cadavra says:

    Remember when Disney fired President Nina Jacobson as she was literally giving birth to a child? These people are always talking about “optics,” but seem clueless about putting that into practice.

  8. Lisa says:

    Why in the world would you fire someone while they were sick? Do it before or after. Either way, it’s not good, but not when she’s at home, helpless and trying to heal for God’s sake!

  9. Isabella says:

    Horrible. Viacom/BET is a mess.

  10. Tripp Fell says:

    Even if she was fired for performance prior to her leave, doing it while she’s on medical leave is simply asinine. It’s already a PR disaster and only likely to get worse. Really have to question the competency of whoever at BET is responsible for this.

  11. Sir Winston says:

    Brutal. . . . BET is not for the squeamish, or the sick.

  12. Jane says:

    Actually, she says she was fired while on medical leave, BET says she was terminated for performance before her leave. Looks like a case that will go to arbitration or court but why let a few facts get in the way of a good headline.

    • Ashley says:

      If you look into labor laws fmla is job protection. For your attendance while you are out. Sadly Yes they can fire her while on medical leave (they do however have to show documentation that they were in the process of terminating her, write up etc) is completely bs and a really crappy thing to do. Don’t you think this poor woman is going through enough? #boycottbet

    • Agreed... says:

      How was she on leave if she was terminated? Weird, BET… just freaking weird.

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