American Idol boss Nigel Lythgoe has fired back at allegations of racism on the show following the threat of a lawsuit from former contestants.
Lawyer James H. Freeman has submitted a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeking permission to sue producers behind the hit talent show on behalf of nine clients, all black men who have previously auditioned on the program.
In the document, which has been obtained by editors at TMZ.com, Freeman claims producers set out to humiliate the contestants by making them audition and then disqualifying them due to their criminal records.
He states the show violated California employment laws which ban bosses from asking potential employees about their arrest history, as the men were seeking employment by hoping to land a slot on the series.
Freeman claims this alleged tactic was racist and suggests the nine men's "personal and professional lives remain permanently and severely impaired by (the show's) continuing violations of our nation's laws."
However, Lythgoe, Idol's longtime showrunner, insists the claims are unfounded, telling the website, "We treat everybody the same... no matter the race, religion or sex. I think we've always had a fantastic share of talent from contestants both black and white... I don't think I've ever seen racism at the show."
Freeman is allegedly planning to file a lawsuit if he receives the green light from officials at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.