Geffen Playhouse Hit With Age Discrimination Suit from Ex-Artistic Director

Randall Arney says the theater fired him because of his age and/or Bell's Palsy diagnosis and lied about the circumstances of his exit.
Courtesy of Art Streiber/Geffen Playhouse (Building); Matt Winkelymeyer/Getty Images (Arney)
Geffen Playhouse; Randall Arney (inset)

Days after announcing a new artistic director, The Geffen Playhouse is being sued by the person who had held the job for nearly two decades. 

Randall Arney, 61, says he was forced out after 17 years and replaced by someone 20 years younger. He is suing the theater for age discrimination and libel, alleging in a complaint filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court that he was fired and the Geffen lied when it said he stepped down.

Arney says soon after he turned 55, the Geffen changed the terms of his employment and offered him a two-year contract with an option for the theater to extend it for a third year. In 2015, after those three years were up, Geffen revised the contract again — this time eliminating the option to extend it past two years. 

In a February meeting, Arney says he was informed by board of directors co-chairs Pamela Henderson and Martha Robinson that his contract would not be renewed and he was left "stunned and shattered." The next day, a letter was sent to the board about Arney's exit — which he says falsely asserted that he agreed with the decision not to renew his contract and wanted to pursue other goals.

"Not only did Arney not agree to a 'transition' to 'focus on his directorial talents,' but these topics where [sic] not discussed at any time," writes attorney Sana Swe in the complaint, adding that Geffen staff members were given scripts indicating how they should respond to questions from subscribers and donors. 

Arney also says the Geffen leaked the internal letter to the media. 

"The Geffen stripped an award-winning and esteemed Artistic Director of control of the final decades of his career by refusing to renew his contract because of discrimination and defaming him in the process," writes Swe.

Last fall, Arney was diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, after having what had appeared to be a stroke at the office. He says he explained to his colleagues that "there was no way to diagnose the condition definitively, to predict how long he would be afflicted, or to know, once the condition receded, whether or when it would recur."

In April, Arney notified Henderson and Robinson that he believed his termination was because of his "age, disability, and/or perceived disability." He also indicated that he would not sign the non-disparagement agreement they asked for in connection with his severance. Arney says they didn't respond, and in June he took the matter to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which issued a Right to Sue letter.

Arney is suing for age discrimination, disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, libel, slander and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations. (Read the complaint below.)

The theater on Monday announced 41-year-old director Matt Shakman would be taking over the role. A Geffen spokeswoman says the theater does not comment on pending litigation.