Leakes, 54, filed a lawsuit against NBCUniversal, Bravo, production companies True Entertainment and Truly Original and executive producer Andy Cohen in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, April 20.
According to court documents, Leakes claims, “NBC, Bravo and True foster a corporate and workplace culture in which racially-insensitive and inappropriate behavior is tolerated – if not, encouraged.”
The New York native’s lawsuit accused former costar Kim Zolciak-Biermann of racist remarks that went unaddressed. After Leakes joined the hit Bravo series in 2008, Zolciak-Biermann, 43, allegedly made several comments that “perpetuated an offensive stereotype about African-Americans.”
The fashion designer also pointed out that her concerns were ignored by executives at the time. “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,” Leakes’ lawyer David deRubertis said in a statement on Wednesday.
The television personality originally announced her departure from RHOA in season 7 before returning for season 10. In September 2020, Leakes revealed that she would be exiting again ahead of the show’s 13th season. “I have made the hard and very difficult decision to not be a part of Real Housewives of Atlanta season 13,” she said on her YouTube channel at the time. “It wasn’t an easy decision for me.”
At the time, the former Dancing with the Stars contestant noted that she experienced an “extremely, extremely long, exhausting, tiring, emotional negotiation” that resulted in her decision. “There has been a lot of emotion flying on both sides,” she added. “I’m just so happy that I can say that I was a part of a genre that opened doors for Black ensemble reality shows.”
In a statement to Us Weekly, Bravo explained that they “wish NeNe all the best in her future endeavors and thank her for sharing her journey” with viewers. “She’s been instrumental since the start and will truly be missed, and maybe one day she’ll hold the peach again,” the network stated.
That same month, Leakes claimed that Cohen, 53, “forced” her “out of the franchise.”
“Let me sit over here and heal in peace,” she said in another YouTube video. “If you don’t have anything positive to say about me working for your network after 13 years? Stop bringing up my name on your show to help your ratings. Stop it. You didn’t want me here. You’ve been forcing me out for the past four years.”
She continued: “I am still very grateful for everything that’s happened in my life over the 13 years, I don’t regret anything, I have learned a lot of things, there are a lot of things I would probably do differently. But if I were you, you should stop doing that. It’s not right. It is wrong.”
Cohen, for his part, previously shut down claims that Leakes’ scenes were edited out of RHOA. Following her exit, the Missouri native reflected on their bond over the years.
“She is a gif and catchphrase machine. In 11 years of #WWHL, Nene has been our most frequent guest, and she is always A BLAST,” the Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen host wrote via Instagram at the time. “Nene nicknamed me ‘Buttercup’ the first day we met, and still calls me that today. Through her whole run, she has always had a serious concern and drive to maintain the success and well-being of #RHOA.”
Even though Leakes moved on from the Housewives franchise, she later opened up about “unfinished business” that might be addressed on RHOA. “Yeah, sure. I’ll return to the show,” she said during an appearance on The Real in November 2021. “I’m OK with returning to the show as long as we can work through a few things. I’d be happy to return to the show.”
Ahead of her lawsuit, Leakes pointed out that there was a chance she could mend her past issues with Cohen. “I think Andy and I were really close for a really, really long time and I love Benny Boo [Benjamin] and I helped pay for his baby shower and all those things,” the Cupcake Wars alum shared, referring to the host’s 3-year-old son. “I think that Andy and I need to have a sit-down and talk and we’re off to the races!”
Us Weekly has reached out to Bravo, Cohen and Zolciak-Biermann for comment about the lawsuit.