A longtime Fox executive who was fired last year is suing the company and Jack Zwissig, an executive coach hired to work with her, alleging that he sexually harassed her. Denise Stilwell claims Zwissig told her she “needed to lift her skirt,” among other “sexist comments.”
In a 13-page lawsuit filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here), Stilwell alleges sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation, the latter tied to her abrupt firing in January, 2017.
Having started at Fox in 1999, she was elevated in February 2013 to lead a new right department within Fox’s Enterprise Operations. Two years later, she signed a four-year contract — two years plus a two-year option — and, according to the suit, was promised by Fox that she would be promoted to SVP within the first two years. In April, 2016, Stilwell’s supervisor took a voluntary retirement package, but the plaintiff was told her “job duties were too essential to the company” to get such a package. She then began to report to Fox CFO Deal Hallett.
The lawsuit says Stilwell was called into Hallett’s office on or about May, 2016. She thought the meeting was to tell her she got the SVP job. “However, to her surprise, Plaintiff was informed ‘you smile too much,'” the suit claims. “Plaintiff was caught completely off-guard by such sexist comments.”
It adds: “Fox offered and Plaintiff accepted Defendant Jack Zwissig and Zwissig and Associates, LLC to serve as an executive coach. Zwissig told Plaintiff that ‘people don’t like you,’ ‘your smile is fake’ and ‘you laugh too much.’ Zwissig told her that she ‘needed to lift her skirt.’ Plaintiff complained to her supervisor and others about the ‘lift her skirt’ comment as a completely improper, sexist comment that contributed to an already hostile work environment.”
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The suit says Stilwell was assigned in August, 2016 to report to EVP Client Servicing Joanie Wallace. About two months later, Stilwell says, Fox demanded that she sign a new contract for one year with an option year. The suit says that “despite a change in the reporting structure, Ms. Wallace refused to meet with Plaintiff until December, 2016. On January 20, 2017, Plaintiff was abruptly fired after being told her department was “not headed in the right direction.”
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Zwissig, 20th Century Fox, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp and Zwissig and Associates are named as defendants in the lawsuit. A Fox spokesperson did not immediately respond to Deadline’s request for comment.
Stilwell is seeking damages for humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress, along with damages for future loss of earnings, etc., and punitive damages. She is represented in the action by attorneys Victor L. George and Wayne C. Smith of the Law Offices of Victor L. George in Torrance, CA.
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