Ten women across the Walt Disney Company claim that the Bob Iger-run media giant doesn’t pay women fairly and are challenging the House of Mouse in court in a proposed class action first launched this spring. However, while fine with fighting a ton of individual actions, Disney are now declaring that the potentially massive discrimination suit is just too unwieldy for the Burbank based conglomerate to handle, seriously.
“The Walt Disney Company described in Plaintiffs’ Complaint is not The Walt Disney Company that exists in fact and law,” declares Disney in a memorandum accompanying their October 18 move to kneecap the class action (read it here). “The Disney Companies categorically deny that they pay any female employee less than her similarly situated male coworkers and will vigorously defend themselves against each Plaintiff’s individual claims,” the L.A. Superior Court document adds dismissively, literally and figuratively. “But that is all this case is–an assortment of individual claims, based on highly individualized allegations.”
Or, as Felicia Davis of Paul Hasting LLP and Disney’s chief lawyer in the matter put it unequivocally from her clients’ POV: “The parties do not need to litigate this case for three years to discover what is clear today — Plaintiffs’ claims are not appropriate for class or representative treatment.”
Longtime Walt Disney Studios employees LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore instigated the suit back on April 3 in a move for back pay, lost benefits and other compensation. They were joined by eight other women on September 18 in an amended complaint that Disney now wants to see shredded – just like the attorneys for the product development manager, the copyright administrator and the others expected.
“We anticipated Disney’s attack on the complaint, and are preparing our opposition,” Lori Andrus of San Francisco firm Andrus Anderson LLP told Deadline Monday. “Although Disney’s legal team attempts to minimize the scope of the impact of the company’s unfair pay practices, the experiences of Ms. Rasmussen and the other plaintiffs show that unequal pay is not limited to one division or one job level,” the attorney stated.
“Disney is essentially arguing that it is too big to be held accountable. But no company should be permitted to evade equal pay laws just because it is large.”
Pivoting against the plaintiff’s read on the Golden State’s long on the books and rarely enforced Fair Pay Act, Disney are essentially making the argument that the potential class action initiators’ lawyer plain calls them out on. “The comparisons Plaintiffs seek to make-across different jobs, different levels and with potentially unspecified other differences-would demand an individual-by-individual review of the duties, skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions of each woman in every job, compared to each man in every other job, to identify the correct comparator pool,” the company pleads in the 22-page filing to get the class struck.
“The defenses to which the Disney Companies are statutorily entitled to assert for each
individual further exposes the unique, non-fungible nature of Plaintiffs’ jobs,” the paperwork continues noting that differences in pay can come from aspects other than gender “such as education, training or experience.” Which is where Disney really digs in: “For one putative class member, the Disney Companies may argue that she lacks the job critical prior experience of a male colleague.For another putative class member, the Disney Companies may argue that she lacks important education or training required for the job. For many others, no defense will be necessary at all because the female employee will be the highest paid among her peers.”
Rasmussen and Moore’s initial complaint followed the former going to Disney HR about her pay being less than men at the company performing the same or similar jobs. The situation specific audit the still Disney employed Rasmussen requested was conducted and the then just under a decade employee was basically told, yes you are right, the men are paid more but its “not due to gender.” Last year, Rasmussen’s pay was increased over $20,000 a year but she says she is still paid less than men doing the work that she is.
Facing what could be hundreds of millions of dollars in pay adjustments and past compensation if the class action is allowed to continue and gearing up for a brave new streaming future, family focused Disney obviously don’t want to be having to do that. This battle comes in an environment when many media companies and others are committing themselves to California’s Equal Pay Pledge – which Disney has not yet inked for its over 60,000 stateside employees. As it is, women overall in American earn about 80% of what men do, at best.
The Walt Disney Company did not respond to request for comment on its strike filing of last Friday. However, the lawyers for the company and the plaintiffs will be showing up in LASC on December 11 to argue whether this class action should go forward or not.