A law firm that has battled companies like Intel and Farmers Insurance over unequal pay for female employees is now taking on the Walt Disney Company.
Andrus Anderson, which is based in San Francisco, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday claiming that Disney discriminates against female workers by paying them less than their male counterparts. The complaint, filed on behalf of two employees at Walt Disney Studios, LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore, asks for back pay, lost benefits and other compensation.
The plaintiffs also want a judge to force Disney to create internal programs to “remedy the effects of Disney’s past and present unlawful employment policies,” including adjusting salaries and benefits for other women and creating a task force that compiles reports on progress. Lori E. Andrus and Jennie Lee Anderson, lawyers representing the women, asked that the case be certified as a class action.
“Women are fed up with being treated as cheap labor,” Ms. Andrus said, noting that Tuesday was National Equal Pay Day, the point in the year at which, on average, a woman’s pay for working in 2018 and 2019 would equal a man’s pay just for 2018. “We hope that this lawsuit will shed some light on the pay discrimination that Disney is subjecting its hard-working female employees to.”
In a statement, Disney said, “The lawsuit is without merit and we will defend against it vigorously.”
On Wednesday, Disney added in a statement, “The lawsuit’s uninformed generalized allegations about Disney’s policies and practices are baseless. Disney maintains robust pay equity practices and policies. Even before California’s Fair Pay Act, Disney created a specialized team of compensation professionals and lawyers to analyze and address the company’s pay equity practices.”
Companies are facing increasing pressure to address questions of gender inequality in the workplace. The Labor Department is investigating whether Google systematically underpays women, an accusation that the tech giant denies. (A recent study conducted by the company indicated that men were being underpaid, though critics said that the research ignored broader questions of gender inequity.)
Time’s Up, the Hollywood-led initiative to combat workplace harassment and inequality, said Monday that it had teamed with California lawmakers and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of Gov. Gavin Newsom, on a campaign to pressure California companies to sign an “equal pay pledge.” So far, 13 companies have agreed, including two in the entertainment business: Apple and AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia.
Britain has recently forced a reckoning about unequal pay by requiring companies to publicly air their salary information. Ms. Andrus noted that the statistics that Disney released in Britain, where it employs about 1,600 people, showed a large disparity between men and women. Disney said at the time that the data was misleading, noting that the company compensates and promotes employees “based on their roles, experience and performance.”
Ms. Rasmussen has worked at Disney for 11 years, most recently as a product development manager at Walt Disney Studios, according to the complaint filed on Tuesday. In 2017, she complained to Disney’s human resources department about being paid less than men performing the same or very similar jobs and asked for an audit, the lawsuit said.
The audit found that men were paid more, but Disney told Ms. Rasmussen that the amount of her pay was “not due to gender.” In November 2018, Disney raised her annual salary by $25,000 and said the increase resulted from “an evaluation of market forces.” Even with the increase, Ms. Rasmussen asserts that she is paid less than male counterparts.
Ms. Moore has worked for Disney for over two decades, the complaint said, and is a senior copyright administrator at the studio’s music label. Ms. Moore says that she was discouraged from applying for a manager position and that, after the job description was changed, a man was hired. He is “making significantly more than Ms. Moore even though they are both performing the same or substantially similar work,” according to the complaint.