Ex Veria Living Exec Files Discrimination Suit

Michael Snyder, the former head of marketing for health and wellness cable network Veria Living (now Z Living), has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company and its top officers – chairman Subhash Chandra and former Asia TV CEO Suresh Bala Iyer (Bala), both Indian nationals – claiming the two regularly prevented the former executive from completing his duties and terminated him last July because he is a Jewish American.

Snyder’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Dec. 12, might not be the only discrimination claim against Z Living executives. Michael Grenert, an attorney with New York law firm Liddle & Robinson LLP, declined to comment beyond the lawsuit. But there are indications that other complaints have been made among employees at the fledgling network. According to a December 2014 letter obtained by Multichannel News, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is conducting an investigation into claims by employees at Z Living parent Asia TV that the company treats employees differently based on their race, sex or national origin. EEOC investigator Emily Haimowitz, who is named in the letter, did not return a request for comment.

Z Living, through a public relations representative, said Tuesday afternoon that “it is our company policy not to comment on any pending legal matters.” Former Z Living CEO Eric Sherman, who left the company last month, also declined to comment. Snyder also declined to comment beyond what is contained in the lawsuit.

The EEOC investigates claims of discrimination against employers and if it finds that discrimination has occurred, first tries to settle the charge. If that is unsuccessful, it can file a lawsuit to protect workers’ rights.

Snyder, a former marketing executive at Discovery Communications and Comcast before joining Veria Living in July 2012, said he was terminated on July 1, 2013, for what the suit said was the chairman’s unhappiness with marketing. Snyder claims in his suit, though, that Chandra had only months earlier praised Snyder for his marketing efforts, including a launch event in Long Island, N.Y., that significantly raised viewership at the cable affiliate in that area, Cablevision Systems.

Snyder’s suit tells in detail the chairman’s regular and detrimental use of the term “Jew” when referring to Snyder, that CEO Bala denied the marketing chief’s request to take time off to observe the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – telling Snyder that those weren’t “real holidays” -- and that Chandra had once told another Jewish co-worker, “You Jews have too many holidays.”

In addition, according to the suit Chandra regularly harassed female executives at the company, firing one woman because she refused his repeated requests to go out to dinner with him. Bala also allegedly referred to one female executive’s breasts as the company’s “secret weapon,” during a company meeting, according to the suit.

In Snyder’s 20-page complaint he claims that Chandra and Bala regularly chided him for being a “dumb American,” forced him to conduct work for friends of the chairman outside of his duties at Z Living and was regularly harassed because of his religion.

Veria Living is a health and lifestyle network owned by Zee Entertainment, a Mumbai-based television and production company owned by Chandra. Veria, which changed its name to Z Living in October to better reflect its relationship with Zee Entertainment, has struggled to find carriage in the United States, opting to press its case to regulators and legislators involved in the approval of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable and the AT&T-DirecTV mergers to get its programming in front of viewers.

Although Z Living does not disclose subscriber numbers, it is carried on Dish Network, Cablevision Systems, Verizon’s FiOS TV, GCI in Alaska, RCN and some smaller independent distributors.

The channel was founded in 2007 by Essel Group, of which Chandra also is chairman. Essel’s holdings in the U.S. include Asia TV USA Ltd., which owns and distributes channels including Zee TV under the Zee brand.

On several occasions, according to the suit, other employees told Snyder that he would never be trusted by Chandra because he is not Indian. According to the suit, Chandra insisted on personally approving every expenditure Snyder made above $1,000; forced the executive to clear all marketing videos with Zee TV Middle East head of programming Rajeev Kheror (who had no expertise in those matters) and refused to give Snyder a definitive marketing budget, saying “You Americans think a budget is a license to spend money,” according to the suit.

Bala also allegedly threw an object across a conference room, shouting “You Americans spend too much time with your wives and not enough time with your co-workers,” after Snyder suggested that a plan for a Friday evening company get-together to boost sagging morale may not do so because some employees may have planned to spend that day with their families.

Snyder, who is currently chief strategy officer at D4 Creative Group in Philadelphia, is asking for back and future pay, court costs and unspecified punitive damages.   

Kent Gibbons contributed reporting to this story.