A female former employee at a Burbank-based studio is suing her ex-employer, alleging she was forced to quit in 2020 in large part because of a supervisor’s derogatory comments about the Asian-American plaintiff’s eyes.
Olivia Cordell’s Los Angeles Superior Court complaint, filed Wednesday against Gen Z Studios LLC and her former supervisor, Joseph Lackey, comes 14 months after ex-Gen Z producer Scarlet Sheppard filed a separate suit, alleging she overheard Lackey say he needed to “fire, bribe or strangle” his female employees to get them to do what he wanted.
Cordell is an actress, writer and YouTube personality who was hired in May 2019 for duties including producing and camera operating, according to her suit, which alleges gender discrimination and harassment, wrongful constructive termination, whistleblower retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Cordell seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. A Gen Z attorney did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Starting in July 2019, Lackey often told the Asian-American Cordell during photographing and filming to, “Open your eyes, Olivia. Your eyes look closed in all of the photos,” often laughing during the comments, the suit states.
Lackey also frequently told Cordell that there were things she could not do on camera because her eyes were too small and that she could not look wide-eyed and shocked due to her national origin, the suit states.
In June 2020, Lackey joked that his next wife would be a “Korean girl,” the suit states.
“Ms. Cordell felt humiliated as a result of this,” the suit states.
The plaintiff told Lackey three months later that she wanted a month off to be with her family, including her mother, who had contracted the coronavirus, the suit states.
Cordell returned in October 2020 saying she only wanted to work one to two days a month so as to avoid COVID-19 exposure, but Lackey said he “didn’t know if we could make it work,” the suit states.
Another producer told Cordell that someone else had taken her job and that if she returned she would probably lose her position anyway because there were “too many Asians on the channel,” the suit states.
Fed up with the alleged workplace harassment, Cordell “chose to not return,” the suit states.
Cordell has suffered past and future income loss as well as emotional distress, according to her suit.
In her separate suit filed in July 2021, Sheppard says she was hired at Gen Z in mid-2018 as a producer, and her duties included writing, camera operation, scheduling talent and acting.
Sheppard began wearing a mask at the office in March 2020 because of the coronavirus, prompting Lackey to ask during regular Monday morning work meetings, “Are you sick?,” according to the Sheppard suit.
In August 2020, Lackey increased his alleged harassment of Sheppard, telling her during a lunch break that she ate like a trucker and he was surprised she was able to maintain her figure, the Sheppard suit states.
That same month, Sheppard overheard Lackey say, “I don’t know what to do to get these girls to do the (expletive) I want them to do, I need to fire, bribe or strangle them,” the suit states.
Lackey, in alleged retaliation for her complaint, degraded Sheppard’s psychological well-being, stating, “I think Ms. Sheppard was molested and that is why she is sick in the head,” according to the suit, which further states that Sheppard quit her job as a result of the remark.