Former Fox Executive Sues Studio for Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

A company-appointed executive coach allegedly told the ex-vice president to "lift up her skirt."
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

In the midst of new revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood, a former executive at Twentieth Century Fox is claiming that the studio fired her after she complained about sexist comments in the workplace, including when a company-appointed executive coach told her to "lift her skirt."

Former Fox vp enterprise rights management Denise Stilwell on Friday sued Twentieth Century Fox, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, executive coach Jack Zwissig and his firm Zwissig and Associates for gender discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment and violation of public policy.

Stilwell believes her gender was a "substantial motivating factor" in her termination from the company and was given the green light to sue after filing a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. 

Stilwell worked for 10 years at Fox's Television Distribution Department and two years as a consultant on the enterprise operations division before she signed a four-year contract as a vice president of enterprise rights management, with, she claims, the promise that she would be promoted to senior vp within her first two years in the position. Stilwell says that after her supervisor accepted a voluntary retirement package in 2016, she began reporting to then-Fox CFO Dean Hallett. About a month after that, Stilwell says, she was called to meet with Hallett in a one-on-one meeting where she assumed she would be receiving the promotion; instead, Hallet told her, "You smile too much."

Stilwell claims Fox referred her to Zwissig — who told her "people don't like you," "your smile is fake," "you laugh too much" and that she needed to "lift her skirt." She then complained to her supervisor and others that the skirt comment was improper, sexist and "contributed to an already hostile work environment," according to the complaint.

Three months after Hallett called the meeting with Stilwell, she was reassigned a new supervisor, Joanie Wallace, then-executive vp client servicing; two months later, Stilwell says Fox demanded she renegotiate her employment contract from a two-year option to a one-year option. Stilwell says that Wallace refused to meet with her for months and in January she was fired because "her department was not headed in the right direction."

Stilwell is seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress and loss of earnings and benefits.

Twentieth Century Fox and Zwissig have not yet commented on the complaint.

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