Just days before Disney+ launches with the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and more, the Walt Disney Co today finds itself again on the receiving end of a potential pay-equity class action lawsuit that could make digital dreams disappear in a fog of legal smoke.
“Well-supported claims must be investigated, not dismissed,” declares the opposition (read it here) to the House of Mouse’s desire to shatter the class action first filed on April 3 by long-term employees LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moorein seeking back pay, lost benefits and other compensation, “The goals of California’s Equal Pay Act cannot be realized if women’s voices are silenced and discovery is curtailed.”
Calling the potentially multimillion-dollar matter “an assortment of individual claims, based on highly individualized allegations,” Disney pushed back hard in October 18 paperwork of its own seeking to stop class action certification. Stating unequivocally that the company does not discriminate based on gender, Disney also cautioned that determining if it was in fact violating California’s Fair Pay Act would prove impossible due to the size and complexity of the organization.
“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,” asserted Felicia Davis of Paul Hasting LLP on behalf of her clients at the Bob Iger-run entertainment giant against the allegations of now 10 female Disney employees.
Hold on there Bobby, says the plaintiff and their main lawyer Lori Andrus, at least let the process progress.
“Ten women have bravely come forward to demand that The Walt Disney Company and its affiliated companies pay women equally to men, as the law requires,” the 22-page opposition filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court adds. “Given the compelling nature of their stories —which Disney does not challenge in its Demurrer to Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint, or in the Alternative, Motion to Strike Class and PAGA Representative Action Allegations —it is not surprising that Disney hopes to block their collective efforts to let women succeed at ‘The Place Where Dreams Come True.'”
“The allegations included in the Second Amended Complaint satisfactorily plead all the elements of a claim under the Equal Pay Act,” the opposition document notes. “As discussed herein, the Complaint contains plenty of ‘glue’ holding Plaintiffs’ claims together with the other women they seek to represent. Nonetheless, Disney’s Demurrer seeks to shortcut the discovery process and try Plaintiffs’ entire case at the outset.”
“Disney is attempting to put the cart before the horse,” Andrus Anderson partner Lori Andrus added to Deadline today. “It wants to try the whole case before we’ve gotten access to their corporate records and compensation information.”
“Disney is firmly committed to equitable pay and is prepared to engage with any individual who believes they are not paid equally,” a Disney spokesperson told Deadline on Wednesday. “To suit their own purposes, plaintiffs’ counsel has wholly mischaracterized the company’s motion. What Disney is challenging is plaintiffs’ counsel’s attempt to invoke a class action procedure that is unsuited to the resolution of claims that are, by their nature, inherently individualized. In fact, we are not aware of any court that has approved this class action approach in similar cases.”
The matter of Disney’s move to put the brakes on the class action before it receives certification will be heard in Judge Daniel Buckley’s Los Angeles Superior Court courtroom on December 11. Before then, and with the knowledge that Buckley has expressed some doubts about certification himself in the case, Disney plans on filing a response to the plaintiffs’ response.
In the meantime, it should be noted that Disney has not signed the Golden State’s Equal Pay Pledge for its more than 60,000 employees in California. Strongly supported by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the pledge has already attracted ink from several media behemoths like Apple and AT&T. The Tim Cook-run company has just launched its foray into the streaming war with AppleTV+; AT&T is set to follow with its HBO Max next March.