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Disney’s Gender Wage Complaint Now Class Action

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A gender wage complaint filed in 2019 has turned into a class action claiming that Disney has been systematically paying women employees in California less than men for substantially similar jobs.

Los Angeles, CAMickey and Minnie are not on the same page when it comes to wages. A California labor lawsuit initially filed in 2019 and now turned into a class action, alleges that Disney has been systematically paying women employees in California less than men for substantially similar jobs. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle certified a class under the Golden State's Equal Pay Act. Plaintiffs’ attorneys said in court that the entertainment and media corporation has paid women on average 2% less than men doing equivalent jobs, in violation of California’s Equal Pay Act.

The plaintiffs represent more than 10,000 women employed by Disney in California from 2015 until the present. The lawsuit excludes employees who are vice presidents or above and those working at Disney-owned Hulu, ESPN, Pixar, 21st Century Fox, FX, National Geographic, Bamtech, ILM and other brands that have distinct pay policies or were recently acquired and cannot be fairly compared to the rest of the corporation. In the motion for class certification, attorneys estimated that more than 10,000 women employed by those Disney entities from 2015 to the present are owed $151.6 million. (Under stipulations of the Golden State’s Equal Pay Act, $151.6 million could double to $300 million.)

LaRonda Rasmussen et al. v. The Walt Disney Co.

In the complaint (and posted by Deadline) filed in 2019, ten plaintiffs accused Disney of an “egregious gender pay gap that appears to be engrained in Disney’s culture” and the entertainment giant “routinely underpays its female employees, passes them over for promotion, piles on extra work without additional compensation, and does not supply sufficient support staff to allow women to succeed at their jobs.” 

The women are suing for back pay, lost benefits and other compensation. They 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 reports on the progress.

A number of plaintiffs said that they perform work associated with more highly compensated positions, but Disney insisted that promotions could occur only along a ladder — from manager to senior manager and then to director, for instance. At the same time, men were sometimes allowed to skip a step, according to the complaint.

Not surprisingly, Disney argued that the women failed to adequately identify "substantially similar" jobs performed by the men and women, an argument Judge Berle rejected. "Rather, plaintiffs argue that they can prove substantially similar work because Disney's job family/level composite does encapsulate what Disney determined are substantially similar jobs based on the required skill, effort and responsibility," reported Law360.

According to The Guardian, a senior manager for Disney music publishing said she learned she was earning $25,000 less than some men with equivalent titles. Other women allege that they faced discrimination when they were denied promotionsgiven smaller raises than men, or were classified in lower-ranking jobs compared with men doing similar work.

The court document states that: “only as a class can the women at Disney address wage gaps and receive effective injunctive and monetary remedies. Injunctive relief to address systematic disparities is unattainable through individual actions as the scope of relief would be limited to the scope of the violation shown, and an individual plaintiff would not obtain the breadth of discovery of a class. And many class members are unlikely to bring individual actions.

According to, the House of Mouse since 2019 has sought to swat away or silence the initial plaintiffs’ claims of institutional discrepancy and move for back pay, lost benefits and other compensation as “an assortment of individual claims, based on highly individualized allegations” that are best addressed internally individually.

Interestingly, in 2017 Disney conducted a pay-equity study which is allowed into this case. The study determines that the average discrepancy in wages at Disney works out to about 2.5% less for women than men since 2017 (when the company stopped using prior salary levels as part of “setting starting pay” and “the disparities in starting pay shrunk substantially”).

New Study

Another study, this one conducted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, gathered data on representation and inclusion in Hollywood dating back to 2007. It found that the pledges made by major studios to hire more women and people of color to direct more movies were largely "performative." According to HuffPost, over the past 17 years, just 19 women of color have directed at least one of the top 100 highest-grossing films at the box office annually (from a total of 1,700 films between 2007 and 2023), according to the group’s data. Women overall have also made few, if any, gains in directing in recent years. Just 12.1% of the directors of 2023’s top 100 films at the box office were women — barely a difference from 2022, when the figure was 9%, according to the report.“

Variety in January 2024 noted the following about the study:

  • Women comprised just 16% of directors on the 250 top-grossing films, which was down from 18% in 2022.
  • Female filmmakers called the shots on 14% of the 100 top films, which was up from 11% in 2022.
  • The findings come as female filmmakers like Greta Gerwig (Barbie), “Salburn’s” Emerald Fennell, “Past Lives’s” Celine Song and “Priscilla’s” Sofia Coppola released some of the year’s buzziest and most acclaimed movies; and pop divas like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift topped the box office with concert films.
Compared with their white male counterparts, most women and people of color don’t get the chance to move up the ladder, from directing independent films to episodes of major television shows, streaming movies and, eventually, big box-office hits. It looks like the larger the project, the more likely a white man gets hired to direct it.  

Ironically, Gertwig’s Barbie blockbuster movie, which ends with the realization that there needs to be more equality between Barbies and Kens, has brought Disney about $1 billion at the box office.


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