Former DGA Lawyer Sues Guild for Gender Discrimination (Exclusive)

Jill Killion, a former assistant general counsel at the Directors Guild of America, has filed suit against the guild, alleging that she was paid tens of thousands of dollars less than a male colleague and was retaliated against and wrongfully terminated when she complained about the disparity.

The complaint, filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Killion was paid substantially less than associate general counsel David Dreyfus, who had a more senior title – associate, as opposed to assistant, general counsel – but allegedly “performed the same, or substantially the same, job duties” as Killion.

The suit alleges that DGA general counsel David Korduner said he “did not know” the difference’s between Killion’s position and Dreyfus’, nor what steps she could take to be eventually promoted. Killion claims that her review of the DGA’s 2008 LM-2 informational filings with the Department of Labor revealed that the DGA “has an employment practice of compensating male employees at a higher rate than female employees.”

The complaint offers no examples of the alleged discriminatory practice other than the Killion-Dreyfus comparison. However, legal complaints often omit detail, with the facts to be fleshed out during discovery and/or trial. From January of this year through late July or early August, Killion’s lawyers and the DGA attempted to negotiate a settlement, but didn’t reach agreement.

Killion’s attorney, Douglas Silverstein of Kesluk & Silverstein, declined to comment on details of the suit, citing client confidentiality. The DGA stated it has a policy of not commenting on pending lawsuits. According to Silverstein, the suit is expected to be served on the DGA today. The guild will then have 30 days to respond.

Killion says she worked for the DGA from June 2008 through June 2009. (Her name was Jill Johnson at the time, prior to a marriage.) According to the complaint, Killion was paid $75,000 per year in 2008 and $78,000 per year in 2009 and Dreyfus “made $131,181 for the year of 2008” and received a raise to $152,000 in 2009.

In April or May 2009, according to the complaint, Killion confronted Korduner about her belief that the LM-2 showed gender discrimination and about the difference between her salary and Dreyfus’s. The complaint does not indicate Korduner’s response, but says that a month later, the DGA terminated her in retaliation. The complaint asserts that Korduner told Killion in her termination meeting, “I don't know why you were looking at the LM-2.”

The complaint also says that the DGA gave pretextual reasons for Killion’s termination: namely, that the DGA was “restructuring,” Killion was “too ‘ambitious,’” and that Killion had “poor performance.” The complaint does not attribute these comments to any particular person. Just six months earlier, according to the complaint, Korduner had told Killion she was performing well.

Killion is seeking actual and punitive damages, lost earnings and attorneys fees, but not reinstatement.

Portions of the suit are likely to face a statute of limitations challenge. California law generally requires discrimination claims to be filed within a year of “the date upon which the alleged unlawful practice or refusal to cooperate occurred.” Killion first filed with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing on November 3, 2010, more than a year after her termination.

However, the complaint alleges that two days after her termination meeting, but before her last scheduled day of employment, she met with an unnamed DGA executive who encouraged her to apply for a transfer to an open position as a field representative. It’s not clear whether the executive knew she had already been terminated and that her last day of work was just over a week away.

According to the complaint, Killion then applied for the transfer prior to her last day, but it was denied. The complaint says that this too was discriminatory and retaliatory, but that Killion did not know that such was the case “until on or about November 4, 2009 when she learned a less-qualified male had been hired instead of her.”

The complaint does not say who was hired or how Killion knows that the new employee was less qualified or, even if so, that he was preferred because of his gender. In any case, according to this chronology, her DFEH filing came on the last possible day, November 3 of the following year.

Establishing that this filing was timely may require pinning down the “on or about” November 4, 2009 date, and tying the alleged discriminatory transfer refusal to the main thrust of the complaint, namely, the salary differential between Killion and Dreyfus and the alleged DGA practice of discrimination. The argument would be that the various alleged actions amount to a “continuing violation.” Whether this is supportable or not will probably be hashed out at least initially in pre-trial motions.

The statute of limitations on the wrongful termination claim may be two years, in which case it may not be at risk of dismissal on these grounds.

The complaint states that Dreyfus was hired 18 months prior to Killion. Dreyfus was admitted to the California bar in 1998; Killion, a 2004 law school graduate, was admitted in 2007. Interestingly, during 2008 and 2009, the DGA employed a female lawyer with the same title as Dreyfus, associate general counsel Beverly Ware. She received $12,000 more than Dreyfus in 2008 and $11,000 more than him in 2009.

Although that comparison might seem to undermine Killion’s claim that the guild underpays its female employees, Ware was admitted to the bar 24 years earlier than Dreyfus and worked at the DGA at least since 2000 (the oldest DGA LM-2 available online) and had been an outside counsel to the guild as far back as 1984, whereas Dreyfus was hired in 2007 and, judging from a DGA announcement in May 2007, had no previous labor law experience (although he did have entertainment and intellectual property litigation experience).

Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel

 

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