A gay longtime employee of the Walt Disney Co. is suing the entertainment giant, alleging he was the victim of age and sexual orientation discrimination on the job and that he ultimately was forced to quit in 2022 because of his work conditions.
David Jessen’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit also alleges failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation, whistleblower retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
A Disney representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Friday.
Jessen, now 61, was hired in 1995 as the director of international product development and was promoted two years later to vice president of the same division, the suit states. His responsibilities included creative content producing and creative marketing, involving budgets of tens of millions of dollars, the suits states.
From 2016 until Jessen’s resignation, a supervisor made demeaning and highly offensive comments to the plaintiff regarding his sexual orientation and subjected him to adverse employment actions, the suit alleges. The boss excluded Jessen from important meetings and emails, provided the plaintiff the lowest bonuses and prevented him from reaching out to his contacts to perform his job, according to the suit.
After Jessen filed an internal complaint for discrimination and harassment in 2017, he was subjected to a “persistent pattern of retaliation and harassment” and no investigation of the issues he raised was conducted, the suit states.
At a company meeting in 2018, Jessen was asked if he found a male actor to be attractive, the suit states. Another management person who indirectly supervised Jesses referred to him as a “dinosaur” who had been at Disney too long to have fresh ideas, the suit states.
When Jessen presented his supervisors in 2018 with a proposal for him to become a senior vice president, he was instead demoted to an ambassador position in 2019 with less significant responsibilities and his previous role was filled by three younger workers, the suit states.
In the fall of 2019, Disney terminated many employees more than 40 years old in Jessen’s creative group, most of whom were replaced with younger workers, the suit states.
Jessen was demoted again in 2021 and complained to human resources, where a representative promised that the allegedly hostile conduct toward him would be addressed, but the adverse employment actions continued, according to the suit.
Last March, Jessen suffered a mini-stroke that left him with a loss of balance and coordination and with a difficulty articulating words, the suit states. He took a 12-week leave of absence, but was again subjected to improper work actions when he returned, the suit alleges.
Jessen complained to Disney CEO then-CEO Bob Chapek that he had been the victim of ageism, harassment and retaliation, but Chapek did not respond and Jessen resigned in November because he “could no longer tolerate the disrespect, unfair treatment, shame, anxiety and depression” while working for Disney, the suit states.