NeNe Leakes Sues Andy Cohen and Bravo for Alleged Failure to Address Racism on 'Real Housewives'

The lawsuit was filed by the reality TV star in an Atlanta federal court on Wednesday.

NeNe Leakes is suing the companies behind the The Real Housewives of Atlanta, alleging that they fostered and tolerated a hostile and racist work environment.

The lawsuit, filed in the Atlanta federal court on Wednesday, lists NBCUniversal, Bravo, the production companies True Entertainment and Truly Original, executives from the companies and Housewives executive producer Andy Cohen as defendants, according to documents obtained by ET.

The suit alleges, “NBC, and its parent company Comcast, perpetuate the lack of diversity in the industry. Comcast and NBC have been, and still are, plagued by a lack of diversity at the highest levels of the senior leadership."

The lawsuit states that Leakes had complained for years about alleged racist remarks made by fellow former cast member Kim Zolciak-Biermann, who, according to the suit, allegedly made “racially insensitive and stereotypical” comments about fellow cast member Kandi Burruss' home and that Zolciak-Biermann allegedly used the N-word to refer to Leakes and other members of the cast. Leakes did not name Zolciak-Biermann in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims that Leakes' complaints of alleged racism had her forced off the series prior to the 13th season in 2020. Leakes was a cast member on The Real Housewives of Atlanta from 2008-2020. 

"As the Black Lives Matter movement swept our nation, Mrs. Leakes – Bravo’s historically most successful Black female talent – should have been embraced by NBC, Bravo, and True," the documents read.

"Instead, NBC, Bravo, and True forced her out of the 'house she built' denying her a regular role and excluding her from the early season filming that would address the BLM movement. Then, as she pushes back against the discrimination, harassment and retaliation again, they retaliatorily renege on a development deal that was previously on the table as well as any other potential ventures cutting her out entirely."

Leakes' lawyer in Beverly Hills, David DeRubertis, released a statement to ET regarding the lawsuit.

“From the day the series began filming, NeNe was the target of systemic racism from co-star Kim Zolciak-Biermann, which was tolerated by Bravo executive producer Andy Cohen and other executives,” alleges DeRubertis. “That is not surprising, since for years NBC, Bravo and TruTV have permitted – even encouraged – a corporate and workplace culture that tolerates cast members and talents’ racially-offensive and insensitive conduct, statements and actions without any meaningful consequence or remediation. NeNe hopes that coming forward with this lawsuit these networks to assume their duties to ensure a workplace free from racially discriminatory or harassing behavior.”

Additionally, her attorney and co-counsel in Atlanta, Joe Habachy, also released a statement to ET, which reads, "Not a day goes by that NeNe doesn't wake up with an onslaught of overwhelming emotions as a direct result of these unfortunate and avoidable occurrences. She has severe anxiety and PTSD and carries a great deal of regret for not speaking up sooner. These were widespread acts of discrimination - committed by several parties and tolerated systematically during her tenure at the Housewives.  It took a great deal of courage for NeNe to come forward regarding these incidents and she looks forward to holding both the participants and the enablers accountable."

ET has also reached out to Cohen, Bravo, NBC and Zolciak-Biermann for comment.

Leakes announced her departure from the franchise in September 2020, noting in a YouTube video that after “emotional negotiations,” she and Bravo could not come to an agreement. Shortly after the announcement, Leakes took to Twitter to fire back at Cohen and Wendy Williams, calling the host “ole cocaine head” and Cohen “you ole racist," after the two discussed her departure during an episode of The Wendy Williams Show.

The same year, during an interview with ET, the 54-year-old reality TV star gave an update on the status of her relationship with Cohen. “Well, I thought that we had a relationship and a great relationship,” she said. “Maybe we didn't. I don't know.”

In November 2021, during an appearance on The Real, Leakes opened up about the things that would have to be done to get her to return to the franchise -- including having a talk with Cohen. 

"I'm OK with returning to the show as long as, you know, we can work through a few things," she said at the time. "I'm happy to return to the show and besides, I have a lot of unfinished business with a couple of them they confirmed on the show." 

Leakes added, "I think Andy and I were really close for a really, really long time and I love Benny Boo, and I helped pay for his baby shower and all those things," Leakes shared, referring to Cohen's son, Benjamin. "I think that Andy and I need to have a sit-down and talk and then we’re off to the races." 

In 2021, ET spoke with Cohen about Leakes’ statements about sitting down with him to discuss her future on the show.  

“You know, right now I’m so focused on this season which is in production,” he said. “And we've got a great group and we're often running to the races, so right now my mind is really on that.”