NBCUniversal Faces Wrongful-Termination Suit Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

Former Los Angeles employee Gina De Marco alleges a "hostile work environment" that included a supervisor referring to his genitalia as a "lightsaber."
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Gina De Marco, a former NBCUniversal employee in Los Angeles, claims the media conglomerate failed to fully investigate alleged sexual harassment by her direct supervisor, which created a hostile work environment.

So De Marco has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit that, among other things, claims NBCUniversal failed to respond adequately to "inappropriate gender-based, sexual comments" she faced, and that she was subjected to retaliation as a result of her complaints about unlawful harassment.

The action against subsidiary NBCUniversal Media was filed in California state court in September. The media giant is fighting the lawsuit. Last month, NBCU had the case removed to federal court. According to the complaint, De Marco was a senior digital fulfillment specialist at NBCUniversal between 2016 and August 2017, and she worked from home owing to "work restrictions."

De Marco, represented by the Donald Potter legal firm, alleges that, starting in Nov. 2016, her director supervisor, John Vitulli, created an unprofessional and hostile work environment. Vitulli's alleged misconduct included referring to his genitalia as a "lightsaber" and telling De Marco "about the masturbation practices of him and other male employees."

Continuing, the lawsuit adds: "When plaintiff De Marco asked about an LBGTQ event, he (Vitulli) responded, 'I don't take part in those gay things.' When plaintiff De Marco informed John Vitulli about a female employee being in the hospital as a result of domestic abuse, he responded, 'She should have learned to keep her mouth shut' and that 'she should have limped into the office.'"

De Marco in her action said she took up the alleged workplace harassment with NBCUniversal human resources, but no adequate investigation followed, nor was she assigned a different supervisor. The suit adds De Marco in June 2017 experienced "mental and/or physical disabilities" from continuing harassment and retaliation that limited her personal and professional lives.

Eventually, De Marco was put on paid sick leave until she lost her job. "On or about August 9, 2017, defendant NBCUniversal … wrongfully terminated plaintiff De Marco's employment as a result of: her complaints about Vitulli; her complaints about the post-complaint harassment and retaliation that she was subjected; and due to her disabilities and need for accommodation including, but not limited to, leave," De Marco claims in her lawsuit.

NBCUniversal said in a statement: "NBCUniversal has a longstanding commitment to safeguard equal employment opportunities and to providing a safe working environment in which everyone is treated with respect and dignity."

But the legal complaint added that NBCUniversal falsely claimed that the termination resulted from De Marco having her employment moved from her home to a "non-remote" position, even though she argues she had no opportunity to accept the office-based position. 

NBCU is asserting various affirmative defenses to the lawsuit, including business judgment, statute of limitations and De Marco's alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Additionally, NBCU is challenging the constitutionality of the asserted damages and insisting that De Marco's own negligence contributed to her injuries and deserves to be offset. In court, the media giant paints the action as frivolous and demands its attorneys' fees.

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