The production company behind America’s Funniest Home Videos is facing a wide-ranging lawsuit that alleges “gender violence,” racial discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation and more.
The class action filed by three anonymous women on behalf of “all other aggrieved employees” names Vin Di Bona Entertainment; its digital offshoot, Fish Bowl Worldwide Media; and individual employees, including one who has been put on administrative leave.
In a March 19 filing in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here), the women ID’d only as Jane Roes 1, 2, and 3 assert in part that the company did not take action regarding the behavior of Philip Shafran, who was Roe 1’s supervisor at VDP. Roe 1, a black woman who was a senior manager in the company digital unit at the time, alleges a pattern of racial bias including ostracized by white supervisors in meetings and Shafran making comments her being “first in line to see the movie Black Panther” and his saying, “I’m blacker than you.”
Another supervisor is alleged to have called out Roe 1 from the podium during an industry fundraiser, saying, “Stop doing blow in the bathroom, crack whore.”
The suit goes on to allege that Shafran sexually harassed Roe 2 while she played a virtual reality game in his office. “At the bottom of the Oculus Rift headset is a sliver where Jane Roe 2 could see her feet and a bit of the floor. … At [one] point, Roe 2 observed Shafran standing behind her, in the corner of the room, with his cell phone in his hand. Roe 2 is informed, believes and thereon alleges that Shafran was using his cell phone to take pictures of [her[, including taking pictures up Roe 2’s skirt.”
She informed a co-worker, Roe 3, about Shafran’s conduct, and “Roe 3 took action to make sure she did not have meetings alone with [him]. In a meeting with two supervisors later, Roe 3 was assured that “they had hired ‘the best investigation team’ and that everything was confidential such that she could not say anything to anyone, but that they had found nothing wrong, ‘the case was over’ and that Jane Roe 2 had to “get over it.’”
Months later, after Roe 2 had filed a police report against Shafran and Roe 3 had “told supervisor Gabe Evans that she struggled working with Shafran because of what he had done to Roe 2, and that she was uncomfortable working with Shafran, Roe 3 was called into a meeting. The suit alleges that she was told “it’s not nice to spread rumors” and that “you’re in meetings, [Shafran’s] in meetings – I don’t see a solution.”
Roes 2 and 3 told VDB that they “felt unsafe in their workplace” and that “they would have no choice but to resign in light of the situation.” Both were told that one supervisor “did not want them coming back into the office.” According to the suit, “They went home early on October 2, 24 2018, and were told to come back the next day before work hours to get their belongings, and that they were not permitted to speak with anyone. Roe 2 and Roe 3 were actually and/or constructively terminated from their employment with VDB on October 3, 2018.”
Di Bona’s lawyer David Fink of Venable LLP told Deadline in a statement. “We take the allegations that have been made very seriously,” Our first and highest priority is making sure that all of our employees feel safe and respected in the workplace at all times. We are thoroughly investigating the facts underlying these disturbing allegations. Pending the results of the investigation, Philip Shafran has been placed on administrative leave effective immediately.”
The jury trial-seeking suit seeks unspecified damages, new VDB policies “to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct and/or assault by Defendants’ employees; immediate cessation of retaliation against employees who report unlawful activity; and appropriate remedial action against Shafran.”
Barbara Figari Cowan of Workplace Advocates LLC in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Dominic Patten contributed to this report.
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