Lucasfilm Faces New Accusation of Pregnancy Discrimination
The company lost a 2010 lawsuit and now faces a claim that its Singapore subsidiary abruptly terminated an employee after its insurance policy failed to cover his wife’s pregnancy.
VFX artist Luis Pages says Lucasfilm Singapore promised inaccurately that he’d have broad medical insurance if he relocated to Singapore for a job with the company – but then fired him without explanation after his wife’s pregnancy turned medically difficult, and withheld salary, leaving him $41,000 worse off.
“I think they fired me because of my wife's pregnancy and because of how upset sending her away made me and my co workers feel,” Pages told The Hollywood Reporter.
It’s not the first time Lucasfilm has faced an accusation involving pregnancy: in 2010, the company lost a pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit in Marin County. A company spokesman told THR the case is currently being appealed.
The Lucasfilm spokesman declined to comment on personnel matters, except to say that “there’s more to the story” than Pages’ account, which first appeared on the VFX Soldier blog. That account (which Pages confirmed), and an interview with Pages, form the basis for this article.
Pages – a 10-year veteran of the industry who specializes in particle system effects such as water and fire – was working in London when Lucasfilm Singapore beckoned with a job. Accustomed like many computer effects artists to traveling the world for employment – he’s also worked in Sydney, Wellington, Adelaide and New York – Pages signed on to a two-year contract and relocated in May to begin work on the Warner Bros. tentpole Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Pages’ other credits include Avatar, Tintin and one of the Harry Potter films.
Included in the Lucasfilm offer, said Pages, was what the company referred to as “Full Medical Coverage Insurance” for him and his wife Anastasia. He took the job and they relocated.
Several weeks later, Anastasia became pregnant. Doctor visits revealed that she had Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a rare connective-tissue disease that can lead to high-risk pregnancy and other symptoms. On his way out of the doctor’s office, when Pages proffered his insurance card, he said he discovered that “Full Medical Coverage” didn’t include pregnancy – a fact that Pages said Lucasfilm never mentioned. Now that his wife was pregnant, he no longer had the option to obtain a supplemental policy covering pregnancy.
“I didn’t even get a chance to get my own policy,” Pages told THR. As a result, he has amassed about U.S. $8,000 in self-paid medical expenses. His wife spent a portion of the pregnancy comparison shopping for the least expensive medical care.
“The more I think about it, the angrier I get,” said Pages.
As a workaround, Pages said the head of human resources at Lucasfilm Singapore suggested that he send Anastasia to her hometown in Russia where she would be able to get health coverage. But Pages would have to stay in Singapore and work for months on the film while his wife was ill and pregnant – and even while his baby was born, in what is expected may be a difficult delivery.
Ultimately, Pages agreed to this and requested two weeks off so he could take his wife to Russia. According to Pages, Lucasfilm approved the time off. But while in Russia, Pages noticed that his monthly paycheck hadn’t shown up in his account.
When Pages inquired, he received an email, which THR has reviewed, that read in part: “This email is to inform you that your employment with Lucasfilm Animation Company Singapore B.V. is terminated with effect from today, October 29, 2012.”
When Pages asked why he’d been terminated, he received a second email, which THR has also reviewed and which said in part “You were under probation” – Pages says this is a reference to a six-month probationary period – “ . . . We are not obliged to give you any reasons.”
Asked whether he had received any evaluations or feedback from supervisors while he was at Lucasfilm, Pages told THR that “we didn't have an official evaluation as this is done at the end of your probation.” He added the production department had expressed concerns (to several team members) regarding how long shots were taking across the board, but nothing different to what happens in every single studio during the early days of production.”
The company is withholding about $11,000 in salary to offset the higher income taxes that are due under Singapore law when employment is less than 183 days in a year and, said Pages, to offset the sums the company paid and expended to relocate Pages and his wife, including the cost of one-way tickets from London to Singapore.
“We don’t get return tickets home,” said Pages.
With no work and no insurance, Pages had to depart Singapore and is now in Montpelier, France. Factoring in all his losses, such as the security deposit on the Singapore apartment, he said he’s out $41,000.
Ironically, the vulnerability of entertainment workers relocated far from home is an issue that high-tech VFX artists have in common with members of one of the most low-tech entertainment unions, Actors Equity, which represents performers in live stage work. Among the concerns that motivated Equity’s formation was the 19th-century experience of “companies (of actors) stranded on the road.”
Pages said he’s not going public because of money and is not planning to sue. His reason for speaking out: “I’m tired of hearing stories like this and no one says anything (publicly).”
IATSE, with the help of its Local 839 – the Animation Guild – has been trying to unionize VFX artists, but finding it a difficult battle in a globally dispersed, highly mobile industry sector. Pages says he supports the effort “110 percent.”
Pages wishes George Lucas well, but adds, “I never imagined that (Lucasfilm subsidiary) ILM would be the company that would make me want to quit the business.”
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Email: jhandel99 at gmail dot com