Fired Warner Bros. marketing executive sues studio over discrimination, ‘boys club’ culture
A 31-year marketing executive has sued Burbank-based Warner Bros. in Los Angeles, accusing the Hollywood studio of gender-based discrimination and retaliation.
Susan Steen joined the studio as a secretary in 1987 and worked her way up to executive vice president for worldwide marketing services at Warner Bros. before she was terminated in December, according to a complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday.
Steen alleges in her complaint that she faced a backlash from male executives who resisted her leadership after she steered a streamlining of the studio’s home entertainment and theatrical divisions in 2018. She said she faced hostility from an “old boys’ club” of senior male managers.
“It was a devastating blow to lose my job in that way; it was a more devastating blow to lose my reputation as a result of it,” Steen said in an interview Friday.
Warner Bros. denied the allegations.
“The allegations in the complaint are inaccurate,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to presenting the facts through the legal process.”
The case is the latest gender discrimination lawsuit filed against a major Hollywood studio. Several current and former female Walt Disney Co. executives have sued the Burbank entertainment giant alleging “rampant pay discrimination.” Disney has called the claims “ill-informed” and “unfounded.”
In January 2018, Warner Bros. announced a reorganization of its global home entertainment and theatrical operations. The move marked the elevation of Blair Rich to president of worldwide marketing, replacing Warner Bros. veteran Sue Kroll. Neither were named in the suit.
The lawsuit, which expanded this week, alleges that women who work at the Burbank entertainment giant are paid less than men performing similar jobs.
Steen alleges that she was told in February 2018 that her pay would increase from $350,000 with a 25% bonus target, to $420,000 with a 30% bonus target. The bonus was related to her assuming additional duties in home entertainment.
But the bonus check she received a year later totaled $41,000 instead of the $127,000 she was owed, according to the suit.
Aside from the pay issue, Steen said executives in the home entertainment division attempted to block access to information she needed to do her job effectively and routinely spoke to her in a demeaning way in executive meetings, according to the complaint.
In the third quarter of 2018, she raised her complaints with her supervisors, including her belief that she was being paid less than men doing comparable work.
Soon after, she said, she faced retaliation. During one meeting, she alleged, a male executive vice president stood over her “aggressively wagging his fingers in her face … threatening a reorganization that would ‘not go well’ for Ms. Steen,” the lawsuit states.
On Nov. 29, 2018 — the same day she was notified human resources was investigating her complaints — Steen was accused of violating a nondisclosure agreement about sharing proprietary company information, she said.
Less than a month later, she said, she was terminated without warning, purportedly for sharing an email with a vendor about marketing rates charged by other businesses.
Steen said that she did not provide any confidential company information and that sharing such information was standard practice.
In her complaint, Steen said she had suffered sleeplessness, depression and anxiety following the termination, and the loss of her career.
She is seeking unspecified damages and reinstatement as well as the creation of a court-supervised policy against discriminatory practices and retaliation against employees who report discrimination to their supervisors.
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