Disney Pay Equity Class Action Can Proceed, Court Rules

Walt Disney Studios - CC - H 2017
Coolcaesar/Creative Commons

A California judge at a hearing Wednesday morning in downtown Los Angeles ruled that a class action lawsuit alleging that Disney pays women less than men for substantially similar work could proceed, rejecting Disney’s argument that the 10 women bringing suit failed to demonstrate that their cases had enough in common with those of potentially thousands of company employees or that the named plaintiffs’ cases were typical of others’ in the class.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Buckley is a setback for the industry giant, which now will have to defend against allegations of gender-based pay discrimination across numerous corporate divisions. California’s Fair Pay Act prohibits differential pay based on gender (or race) for “substantially similar work.” Wednesday’s ruling means that women alleging discrimination will have their cases decided as part of what may be a ground-breaking class action.

In effect, Buckley’s ruling holds that Disney’s workforce is not too heterogeneous for the pay equity question to be addressed as a class action.

The suit was originally filed in April as a class action by LaRonda Rasmussen, a longtime product development manager at Walt Disney Studios and Karen Moore, who has spent over two decades as a senior copyright administrator for Disney’s Hollywood Records. The suit was subsequently amended to add eight additional women from other divisions including theme parks and the company’s ABC network.

“Because Disney’s pay practices negatively affect their female co-workers throughout the state, Plaintiffs bring this case as a class action,” states the amended complaint.

But the company disputes the allegations.

“The Walt Disney Company described in Plaintiffs’ Complaint is not The Walt Disney Company that exists in fact and law,” states the defendant’s demurrer. “The Disney Companies categorically deny that they pay any female employee less than her similarly situated male co-workers and will vigorously defend themselves against each Plaintiff’s individual claims. But that is all this case is — an assortment of individual claims, based on highly individualized allegations.”

That, of course, is the tension that is always on display in class certification decisions — do common questions predominate or are the facts and circumstances too individual to each particular member of the proposed class? Disney will have another shot at opposing the designation in response to the forthcoming motion to certify the class. 

The day was not a total loss to Disney. While Buckley is allowing the case to proceed toward discovery, the judge indicated it should focus on the 10 named plaintiffs and he will be keeping a close eye on it to allay Disney's concerns that it may become a fishing expedition.