CMG Worldwide Facing Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Harassment by CEO Mark Roesler

Christina Chang, a former attorney at the firm that represents James Dean and the heirs of hundreds of deceased icons, claims women at CMG are objectified and demeaned.
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James Dean; Hugh Hefner

The business of dead celebrities isn't immune from #metoo. CMG Worldwide is currently facing a lawsuit from Christina Chang, an attorney who once worked in the company's business affairs department and who alleges that chief executive Marc Roesler created a hostile work environment for females such as herself.

Roesler founded CMG in 1981. Since then, the company has become a powerhouse representing the estates of deceased icons. In the early 1990s, Roesler took on Warner Bros. over merchandising rights to James Dean and fought with Spike Lee over who controlled "X" when the director was making Malcolm X. He pushed Indiana to adopt a celebrity-friendly right of publicity law that was soon imitated by other states in the nation. CMG's list of clients now includes the heirs of Bettie Page, Christopher Reeve, Chuck Berry, Neil Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Natalie Wood and, as of this year, Hugh Hefner. CMG also represents municipalities on such brands as I♥NY and the Beverly Hills Shield. 

According to a complaint that was removed from state to federal court in California on Tuesday, women at CMG "were objectified, devalued, and treated as if their physical appearance were appreciated more than their work ethic/intelligence."

Roesler, a co-defendant in the lawsuit, is accused of commenting on the looks, age, weight, ethnicity and sexual orientation of female underlings and said "he liked his women in high heels."

Chang, who is now an associate at the top law firm Nixon Peabody, also says she experienced harassment from William Uglow, executive vp and chief marketing officer at CMG.

"Roesler was present for much of Uglow's harassing conduct but permitted it to continue," states the complaint. "Plaintiff even complained to Roesler about the harassing conduct occurring at the Premises, but Roesler just blew off Plaintiff's complaints and even threatened Plaintiff that if she made problems no one would want to work for her."

Chang says Uglow would refer to her as an "oriental China doll," tell her she should change her picture on CMG's website to a picture of her in her workout clothes, tell her "to give a client a back rub because CMG is a full service company," rub her hand "in a creepy manner," have her print an index of "favorite pornographic websites" for the female staff to see and so forth.

She says she was forced to resign in March.

She's now claiming violations of the labor code and failure to pay all wages due plus asserting defamation as Roesler allegedly told third parties falsely that she "backed out of [a] deal regarding her pay, tried to shake him down, engaged in extortion and was difficult to work with."

Mark Tratos, an attorney for the defendants, says CMG's response "will be made in the answer and multiple counterclaims we will file soon rather than in press statements."

Roesler adds, "CMG denies the allegations in Ms. Chang's complaint."