One of Nielsen’s top diversity executives has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the consumer metrics company. Cheryl Grace, the senior vice president of U.S. strategic community alliances and consumer engagement, alleges in the lawsuit that she was not promoted despite her high performance and numerous efforts to advance. The lawsuit also claims that when Grace, who is Black, called out numerous instances of racism and inequity at the company to CEO David Kenny, she faced retaliation. In addition to his role as CEO, Kenny also serves as the chief diversity officer at Nielsen (No. 20 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020).
The lawsuit, filed Monday, Oct. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, outlines several instances in which Grace alleges she experienced and witnessed racism. The suit claims that following George Floyd’s death, Grace was left out of conversations the company was facilitating about race despite being one of the most external-facing leaders working with the Black community.
According to the lawsuit, Grace claims she wrote a letter to Kenny in June 2020 that outlined the concerns about her exclusion. The letter detailed instances of racism within the company including a white senior executive calling her Black assistant a “slave” and a junior Black associate being terminated for a perceived “lapse in judgment in how she disseminated an email about microaggressions.” Grace also alleges that Nielsen often failed to promote senior-level Black leaders and claimed that the company’s media teams often avoided asking for the opinion of Black associates.
“This is the reason African American associates who rely on their paychecks for survival don’t speak up at Nielsen!” Grace’s letter says. “Fear keeps them quiet. Fear of retaliation from their managers. Fear of exclusion. Fear of being labeled. Fear of being blackballed in the industry.”
Grace is one of the few executives of color who have remained at the company for more than a decade, the Chicago Crusader reported. She has been at the company for 16 years and spent 13 of those in her current position. According to the lawsuit, by the time Grace had written the letter, she had been asked three times if she wanted to leave the company with a severance package.
While Kenny reportedly responded to Grace’s letter promising a meeting, she says one never materialized. Instead, she alleges the company’s HR department pulled years old expenses which had previously been approved and accused her of fraudulently filling the materials out and attempting to steal from the company.
In an ironic twist, Grace’s lawsuit comes less than a week after Nielsen published its 10th edition of the Black consumer report titled, “The Power of Black Community: From Moment to Movement.” In a press release distributed to promote the report, Grace is quoted talking about systemic racism and its impact on opportunities for professional growth.
The lawsuit is currently working its way through legal review and has been assigned to Judge Manish S. Shah. Grace is asking for punitive and compensatory damages including payment and benefits lost as a result of Nielsen’s conduct, as well as for emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life.