A Superior Court judge in California has granted class action status to a lawsuit brought by a group of female plaintiffs against the Walt Disney Company. One of the attorneys representing the women believes that the number of plaintiffs could grow to as many as 9,000. The women are suing Disney over an alleged gender pay gap at the entertainment giant. The judge handed down the decision after a contentious hearing on Dec. 8.
Gender pay gap
In the employment discrimination lawsuit, the women accuse Disney of violating the California Equal Pay Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Based on the landmark 1963 federal law, the California Equal Pay Act requires employers to give male and female employees equal pay for equal or substantially similar work. The lead plaintiff claims that she was paid at least $16,000 per year less than six male employees with identical or substantially similar duties. The case is likely to attract the attention of the media because Disney is one of the largest and most famous companies in the world and employs approximately 9,000 women just in California.
Disney objects to certification
Attorneys representing Disney made several arguments against certifying the case as a class action. Their chief objection was the diverse range of duties that female employees at Disney have. Disney attorneys argued that certifying the lawsuit would result in an unwieldy class that would include executives, artists, engineers and hospitality workers. The lawyers also argued that Disney was not responsible for any alleged employment or wage and hour law violations because appropriate compensation for male and female employees is determined by individual supervisors and not company policy. The judge granted class action status to the plaintiff’s California Equal Pay Act claim, but he declined to certify their Fair Employment and Housing Act claim.
Companies that operate in the media spotlight do not like bad publicity, and claims of employment discrimination generate a lot of bad publicity. This is why these claims are likely to be settled behind closed doors and not in a courtroom.