A 69-year-old longtime Mattel set and scenery builder who sued the El Segundo-based toy maker, alleging he was forced to resign in 2021 because he could no longer tolerate a work environment in which colleagues and supervisors chided him because of his age, will have to arbitrate his claims, a judge ruled.
Torrance Superior Court Judge Gary Y. Tanaka on Monday granted Mattel’s motion to force Bernard Grisez to take his case before an arbitrator rather than a jury. The judge put the case on hold pending the outcome of the binding arbitration and scheduled a status conference for June 1.
The judge found that Mattel and a staffing agency, suit co-defendant Knowledge Services Inc., had shown a valid agreement signed by Grisez in April 2021 in which he concurred he would arbitrate any disputes and that the agreement was not unfairly weighted in favor of the companies.
Grisez filed the suit May 24, alleging wrongful termination, discrimination and harassment due to age, failure to prevent harassment and discrimination, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Throughout Mr. Grisez’s employ, his Mattel co-workers and supervisors subjected him to a barrage of ageist taunts and harassment, repeatedly asking him when he would retire, commenting on his age, calling him `old man,’ saying he needed a walker to get around and posting hurtful images of him around the office,” the suit alleges.
Grisez “found himself in an overwhelmingly toxic and hostile work environment where he was routinely berated, mocked and ridiculed by his peers and supervisors because of his age,” according to the suit.
Grisez was directly employed by Knowledge Services Inc. and a second staffing agency, Team Music, that placed him at Mattel from May 2004 until his discharge in October 2021, the suit states.
In May 2004, Grisez, then 51, began working at Mattel as a part-time set builder, but two years later, he and other set builders were required to work full time, the suit states.
Grisez managed Mattel’s set building for some of the biggest trade shows in the toy industry and had substantial responsibilities, including training newer, and often younger, employees, the suit states.
Despite Grisez’s “exemplary work history and unquestionable skills,” he was repeatedly passed over for promotional opportunities because of his age, the suit alleges. Mattel instead gave promotions to younger employees with less experience, some of whom the plaintiff had trained, according to the suit.
In 2018, one of Mr. Grisez’s co-workers photoshopped the plaintiff’s face onto the photo of veteran comedy actor Don Knotts with white hair who played an elderly subservient character in the television show “Three’s Company,” the suit states.
“This insulting and hurtful image was taped around public areas in the Mattel office,” the suit states.
When Grisez protested about age discrimination to Mattel’s human resources, the company substantiated his complaints, the suit states. But rather than take corrective action, Grisez was told he had to take less pay if he wanted to become a permanent employee, according to the suit.
“Plaintiff was constructively discharged because of his refusal to accept these working conditions,” the suit states.
Mattel hired two 20-year-old employees in November 2021 to replace Grisez, the suit states.