UPDATED with Warner Bros statement: A former longtime Warner Bros marketing executive has sued the company, claiming that she was fired in retaliation for making allegations of gender discrimination and harassment by men in senior management.
Susan Steen seeks unspecified damages for wrongful termination, gender discrimination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation and harassment and fair-pay violation. She had joined the company in 1987 and was promoted several times before being named SVP Worldwide Theatrical Marketing Service in 2018, the filing says.
“Steen reported that she felt harassed as a woman and was being subjected to gender bias by specific male members of senior management,” according to her suit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here). “Despite complaints to her direct supervisor, to numerous executives, and to members of Human Resources, her complaints were dismissed as ‘silly, unimportant, and uncomfortable to address.’ Soon after her complaints, Ms. Steen was targeted with aggressiveness, threats, and retaliation.”
The suit adds: “As just one example, at meetings, the male Executive VP of Home Entertainment stood over Ms. Steen, aggressively wagging his fingers in her face, invading her personal space, and threatening a reorganization that would “not go well” for Ms. Steen. Rather than properly escalate, investigate, and address Plaintiff’s complaints by taking appropriate corrective action, on December 20, 2018, Warner Brothers retaliated against Plaintiff by terminating her for false and pretextual reasons.”
In early 2018, per the suit, “This change prompted a swift and hostile response from the home entertainment division, where an ‘old boys’ club’ comprised of senior male managers resisted plaintiff’s new leadership role over them.” Steen alleges that those same managers sought to undermine her decisions and block access to information crucial to her ability to achieve the cost- saving goals set by Warner Bros. Later, after she had complained to her direct supervisor and HR personnel, the lawsuit claims, Steen was accused of misconduct, including noncompliance and violation of a nondisclosure agreement, and she later was “aggressively questioned in an accusatory, sexist and harassing manner,” the suit alleges.
On the eve of Steen’s firing, she received an email from human resources saying her complaints would begin to be probed, the suit says. “As part of this purported investigation, Steen and witnesses to the conduct were told not to speak with anyone regarding the subject matter of the investigation,” the suit states.
She then was told that an investigation into her allegations was being launched. But Steen was fired the next day — December 20, 2018 — “without warning.” The suit alleges that “Plaintiff Steen was terminated ‘without cause’ purportedly for sharing an email with a vendor, in violation of the non-disclosure agreement. In fact, Plaintiff shared a non-confidential document commonly shared in the creative agency industry,” the suit adds.
In a statement to Deadline, a Warner Bros spokesperson said: “The allegations in the complaint are inaccurate. We look forward to presenting the facts through the legal process.”
Attorneys Toni Jaramilla and May Mallari of Toni J. Jaramilla Law Corp. are representing Steen in the lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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