A former Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. marketing executive settled her lawsuit against the company in which she alleged that her complaints of harassment and gender bias by some male members of senior management were dismissed as “silly, unimportant and uncomfortable to address” before she was fired in 2018, attorneys in the case told a judge Thursday.
In a hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mel Red Recana to update him on the parties’ January agreement to submit the case to binding arbitration, lawyers for plaintiff Susan Steen and the studio asked for more time to complete the terms of the accord, so the judge scheduled another hearing for Jan. 22, 2022. No settlement terms were divulged.
According to Steen’s suit, filed in October 2020, rather than investigate and address Steen’s concerns with appropriate changes, Warner Bros. in late 2018 retaliated by firing her for “false and pretextual reasons.”
Steen alleged wrongful termination, gender discrimination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation and harassment and fair pay violation. Warner Bros.’ lawyers wrote in their court papers that Steen’s allegations were untrue, but that even if they were valid, she was fired for legitimate reasons.
Steen was hired in 1987 as a secretary for the director of marketing services and from 1989 to 2001 was promoted at least five times, including to the position of vice president of international marketing services in 2001 and senior vice president of worldwide theatrical marketing services in 2008, according to her court papers.
In 2014 and again in 2015, Warner Bros. increased Steen’s responsibilities and she helped make profits soar, her suit stated. By 2018, Steen had been elevated to executive vice president of worldwide marketing services and head of marketing services, and in the first quarter of that year, Warner Bros. assigned her to oversee the consolidation of the home entertainment and theatrical teams with a goal of saving the company money, the suit stated.
After months of assessing home entertainment spending, Steen concluded that significant print production changes were needed and proposed merging the two teams under one creative agency, according to the suit.
“This change prompted a swift and hostile response from the home entertainment division, where an `old boys’ club’ comprised of senior male managers resisted plaintiff’s new leadership role over them,” the suit alleged.
The same senior male managers sought to undermine Steen’s decisions and block access to information crucial to her ability to achieve the cost-saving goals set by Warner Bros., the suit alleged.
Later in 2018, Steen complained to her direct supervisor and to numerous executives and members of human resources that she was being subjected to gender bias and harassment by specific male members of senior management, the suit stated. Her concerns were dismissed as “silly, unimportant, and uncomfortable to address,” according to her suit.
In November 2018, Steen was accused of misconduct, including noncompliance and violation of a nondisclosure agreement, and she was later “aggressively questioned in an accusatory, sexist and harassing manner,” the suit alleged.
On the eve of Steen’s firing, she received an email from human resources saying her complaints would begin to be probed, the suit stated.
“As part of this purported investigation, Steen and witnesses to the conduct were told not to speak with anyone regarding the subject matter of the investigation,” according to the suit.
However, no witnesses identified by Steen were interviewed and she knows of no corrective steps taken, according to the suit, which alleges “the pretense of an investigation served only to silence plaintiff and her witnesses.”
Steen was fired on Dec. 20, 2018, and told it was because she showed an email to a “vendor” in violation of a non-disclosure agreement even though it involved a non-confidential document commonly shared in the creative agency industry, according to her court papers.