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Former 'People' Co-Host Charges Bias

April 17, 1993|STEVE WEINSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Arleen Sorkin, the former co-host of "America's Funniest People," has filed a racial discrimination suit against the producer of the show, claiming that he dismissed her because she is white.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, asks for damages in excess of $450,000 from "Funniest People" executive producer Vin Di Bona and his Vin Di Bona Productions, which produces the show and "America's Funniest Home Videos" for ABC.

The suit states that Di Bona fired Sorkin under pressure from ABC to replace her with an ethnic minority. The show's male host, Dave Coulier, is also white.

But for this current television season, Di Bona replaced Sorkin not with a minority, but with Tawny Kitaen, another white woman.

Sorkin served as co-host on the show from 1990 to 1992, and according to the terms of her contract, Di Bona had the option to let her go at the start of the 1992-93 season.

Sorkin's suit alleges that Di Bona told her last May that he would not renew her contract because "ABC, through its chairman, Dan Burke, had requested that he replace her with someone of a different ethnicity." It claims that Di Bona added that "he would not have fired Sorkin if it had not been for ABC's insistence that she be terminated and replaced with an African-American or other ethnic minority."

Sorkin's suit further alleges that Di Bona hired Kitaen only after Sorkin complained that the reasons for her termination were unfair and discriminatory "in order to hide (his) true and improper motives."

Di Bona was in Europe on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

ABC, which is not named as a defendant in the suit, also had no comment.

Sorkin's lawsuit not only seeks damages for violating California's code against racial discrimination, but for breach of contract and defamation as well. She charges that the termination cast doubt on her competence as a performer and caused damage to her "personal and business reputation" within the entertainment industry.

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