Disney to Face Legal Claim for Barring Employees From Discussing Pay

The Walt Disney Studios
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A class action lawsuit alleging Disney pays women less than men for substantially similar work continues to chart new territory. The women suing the entertainment giant say that they have recently discovered that Disney has been violating a California law prohibiting workers from discussing wages. In the nearly three-year-old lawsuit, the plaintiffs now wish to amend their complaint to include a claim related to pay secrecy.

The case is already serving as an early test of recent legislative changes enhancing California’s Fair Pay Act. Back in Dec. 2019, a judge rejected Disney's initial contention that that the circumstances of each woman's claim of inferior pay aren't similar enough to warrant allowing them to sue as a group. Disney will soon reprise arguments about class certification. In the meantime, the parties are engaged in discovery with the women shooting for documents like a statistical analysis of pay data conducted by outside consultants. Depositions will also happen soon.

According to a joint case management statement filed within the last week, the plaintiffs are now raising a new issue based on "recently uncovered evidence that Disney has been violating California Labor Code section 232" with a uniform policy over pay secrecy.

"Policies regarding pay secrecy have been shown to negatively impact women workers' pay because they systematically deprive female employees of the information they need to demand equal pay," writes attorney Lori Andrus. "The opposite is also true: pay transparency closes the gender wage gap completely... Given the significant role that pay secrecy plays in suppressing women's pay, it is appropriate for violations of Section 232 to be tried concomitantly with Plaintiffs' other causes of action."

Disney's attorneys respond that they are still considering whether to oppose a "belated effort" to amend the complaint. But they do take a brief poke at the plaintiffs' interpretation of Section 232 and through the use of italics signal where this fight might head. According to Felicia Davis, Disney's attorney at Paul Hastings, the document that evidently lays out Disney's pay secrecy policy "does not prohibit discussion of compensation among peers as a condition of employment and by no means establishes a cause of action under Labor Code Section 232."

A spokesperson for Disney adds, "Disney does not prohibit its employees from talking about their pay and looks forward to proving the falsity of this latest plaintiff claim.”