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Comedian Mo'Nique accuses Netflix of pay discrimination

Netflix made a "lowball offer" to the comedian Mo'Nique that was millions of dollars lower than compensation the streaming service has offered other comics of her pedigree, lawyers for the Oscar-winning actress claim in a lawsuit filed this week. 

The lawsuit comes one year after the former star of "The Parkers" called for a boycott of Netflix. Lawyers for Mo'Nique — whose real name is Monique Hicks — said in court documents that Netflix offered their client $500,000 for a one-hour comedy special in January of last year. In previous years, Netflix executives offered other comedians multi-million-dollar deals for their comedy specials, the lawsuit states. 

The suit references a $40 million deal for Chris Rock, a $60 million deal for Dave Chappelle, a $20 million deal for Ellen DeGeneres, a $40 million deal for Ricky Gervais and an $11 million deal for Amy Schumer.

"Netflix reportedly offered or paid Rock, Chappelle, DeGeneres and Gervais 40 times more per show than it offered Mo'Nique, and it offered Schumer 26 times more per show than Mo'Nique," the lawsuit states. "In short, Netflix's offer to Mo'Nique perpetuates the drastic wage gap forced upon Black women in the American workforce."

The actress-comedian Mo'Nique arrives at the premiere of "Almost Christmas" in Los Angeles in November 2016.  Willy Sanjuan

Mo'Nique's lawyers are asking for an undetermined amount in damages. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. 

Mo'Nique, in a statement on Instagram, confirmed the legal action. 

"I had a choice to make," she said. "I could accept what I felt was pay discrimination or I could stand up for those who came before me and those who will come after me. I chose to stand up."

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Netflix officials are standing by their offer to Mo'Nique. 

"We care deeply about inclusion, equity and diversity and take any accusations of discrimination very seriously," the company said in a statement. "We believe our opening offer to Mo'Nique was fair — which is why we will be fighting this lawsuit." 

Perhaps best known for her television role as Nikki Parker on "The Parkers," Mo'Nique won an Oscar in 2010 for Best Supporting Actress in the film "Precious." She also won a Screen Actors Guild award for the dramatic performance. Mo'Nique also starred in the 2001 comedy documentary "The Queens of Comedy." 

"Given her background and history of success, Mo'Nique was precisely the type of talent Netflix should have wanted," her lawyers stated. "Mo'Nique had a proven track record of success in original stand-up content, had years of filling stand-up venues, [and] was widely regarded as one of the leading Black female comedians of all time."

Mo'Nique isn't the first black woman to bemoan Netflix's pay for comedy specials. 

Wanda Sykes said Netflix offered her less than $250,000, an offer she rejected. Sykes eventually agreed to a special because "they moved that comma," Sykes told Variety earlier this year.

Mo'Nique's lawyers said the case is much larger than one comedian, arguing that it's also about addressing the widespread pay gap between whites and black women. Black women earn 61 cents for every dollar a white man earns, according to August data from the National Women's Law Center.

"The pay gap for Black women cuts across the economic spectrum affecting low-paid workers and highly compensated ones alike," the lawsuit states. 

Mo'Nique's case has not stopped Netflix from signing other prominent black women comics. Tiffany Haddish aired a Netflix special in 2017 and is scheduled to release another one in December. Leslie Jones is scheduled to release a special in 2020. Compensation figures for Haddish and Jones have not been released. 

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