9:35am PT by Ashley Cullins
Disney Streaming Employees Accused of Hacking in Discrimination Suit
A former Disney streaming employee says he was discriminated against because of his wife's pregnancy, and alleges in a new lawsuit that his coworkers could have only found out about it by hacking his computer and phone.
Steven Van Soeren worked for Disney Streaming Service, formerly known as BAMtech, for nearly three years as a product designer. He says he consistently received positive performance reviews and was never given a verbal or written warning, but that he was treated differently than other employees because of his impending fatherhood.
Van Soeren alleges several upper-level employees, including his supervisor Brian McConnell and coworker Connor Paglia, referenced personal matters that he had either only discussed at home with his wife or viewed on his internet browser.
"By way of example, Plaintiff was expecting a child but had not disclosed that information to anyone at the Company" states the complaint, which was filed in New York federal court. "Yet, Mr. McConnell, in an unrelated conversation, blurted out to Plaintiff, 'maybe you shouldn’t have a kid.' Likewise, Mr. Paglia sent Plaintiff an unsolicited video of children developing in utero. The same sentiments were harbored by Jennifer Kaufmann, Associate Director of UX & Design, who asked if Plaintiff had a good reason for having a child. Mr. McConnell also stated, within hearing distance of Plaintiff, 'I don’t know why he [Plaintiff] decided to have a kid. At 30 my wife and I thought about it but decided that we’d wait until 40.'"
Van Soeren also says he researched reported carcinogens at Subway on his phone before getting lunch and shortly afterward Paglia said, "If you're worried about carcinogens then you shouldn't eat at Subway." He alleges the company "illegally hacked [his] phone and personal laptop to obtain information which was then used to harass [him]." He said he made multiple complaints to human resources, and alleges McConnell "refused to correct inaccurate representations" in his year-end review unless Van Soeren retracted his HR complaints.
According to the complaint, Van Soeren took two weeks of paternity leave and was terminated shortly thereafter. (Read the full complaint below.)
He's suing for discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision of an unfit employee, among other claims, and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Disney has not yet responded to a request for comment on the complaint.