BET Exec Claims She Was Fired While on Leave Fighting Breast Cancer

Zola Mashariki (Mark Davis/BET/Getty Images for BET)
Zola Mashariki (Mark Davis/BET/Getty Images for BET)

In addition to the surprise announcement of the departure of Stephen Hill after many successful years at BET, the company also announced that its head of original programming, Zola Mashariki, would be leaving the company, too.

Except, according to Mashariki, that was news to her.

On Wednesday, Mashariki said she was caught off guard by public statements issued by the network and its CEO, Debra Lee, which indicated that she would be leaving the company—almost as an addendum to the news of Hill’s leaving.


Variety reports that Hill was fired abruptly from the Viacom-owned network, for reasons that remain unclear.

Lee wrote in a companywide memo that Connie Orlando, senior vice president of specials, music programming and news, will serve as interim head of programming for BET Networks. She also wrote, “Additionally, Zola Mashariki EVP, and Head of Original Programming, will also be departing the network.”

After news of the departures became public, Mashariki sent her colleagues an email notifying them that she’s been on medical leave since February after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and low-key threatening legal action against parent company Viacom and its head, Bob Bakish. She said she plans to return in April.

Mashariki’s full memo is below:

Hi team,

As many of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December and have been out of the office and on medical leave since my first surgery on February 6. I just had another surgery last week and it is a painful recovery for me. It has also been hard on my children.

Thank you all for your kind words and support while I have been out. I miss you too!

I heard yesterday that Stephen was leaving BET. I’m concerned that there was a reference to me, as Stephen’s departure is a separate issue from my status at the company.

Here are the facts: I am on medical leave. 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 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.

I am continuing to focus on improving my health. I have faith in the Viacom/BET leadership and know they will fix this. I have a long history in Hollywood and am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received across the entire industry during this difficult time.

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.

All my best, Zola

Still, a spokesperson for BET confirmed that Mashariki is no longer employed.

“These claims misrepresent the facts and are without merit,” the rep told Variety. “We strongly deny any allegation of wrongdoing.”

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.

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World's Moistest Jheri Curl

hi angela,

see this:

As for Hill’s dismissal, sources note Viacom was notified that he may have attempted to access Mashariki’s medical files and questioned the validity of her breast cancer diagnosis — and purportedly addressed the matter in a staff meeting. The matter escalated to Bakish, who made the decision to dismiss Hill from his post as president of programming.

bakish is viacom’s ceo. as an aside she’s retained a fierce [lesbian] sister as counsel.