Disney gets hit with sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit on first day of Pride Month

A longtime executive in the Disney organization claims his career allegedly hit a “dead end” when it became known to higher-ups that he was gay, and as a result, he is suing in California state court just as Pride Month is commencing.

The plaintiff in the case, Joel Hopkins, a Disney employee for almost 30 years, also alleges that his paycheck suffered because of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Hopkins is currently vice president of production finance for the Disney subsidiary Touchstone Television, which is now known as ABC Signature.

Hopkins claims that for the past two decades, once Disney — including his direct supervisor — learned of his sexual orientation, he “experienced an ongoing pattern of discrimination.”

The legal complaint alleges, among other things, that Hopkins “was passed over repeatedly for promotions,” including in scenarios when less qualified persons got jobs. He also “believes that his compensation is less than other individuals who are also department heads and that his title is lower than other individuals who are also department heads,” especially taking his experience and seniority into consideration.

He also alleges that he suffered various administrative indignities related to sexual orientation bias.

Hopkins claims that he complained to HR over and over but nothing was done. In addition, the executive maintains that Disney handed out promotions to others even while the company claimed it was “hurting financially” and put promotions on hold.

The 10-page lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court names the Walt Disney Company, ABC Signature Studios Inc., and Riverside Television Services, LLC, as defendants, along with 25 individuals only referred to as John Does as placeholders when Hopkins’ attorneys can later identify them.

The executive is formally accusing the defendants of sexual orientation discrimination and failing to prevent discrimination, both of which allegedly violate California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Hopkins is seeking compensatory damages, i.e., in general, his actual out-of-pocket losses, which could be sizable at his level in the company if 20 years of lost opportunities get factored in, punitive damages (which are sometimes calculated at a multiple of three times compensatory damages as a way for society to theoretically discourage future, similar misbehavior), interest on any judgment that may occur, and various costs of the litigation.

In April, Hopkins reportedly filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Submitting a complaint to the relevant state agency, whether or not the agency actually makes a finding, is usually a prerequisite for taking an employer to court on a workplace matter.

If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, according to its slogan, Disney as a company may be the wokiest place, which makes this legal controversy interesting, as is its timing as it celebrates Pride Month.

A civil lawsuit, of course, is a just one-sided rendition of facts as the plaintiff and counsel interpret or perceive them, so Disney will have a chance to file a formal response setting forth its point of view. Each side will have to produce supporting evidence as the case moves forward. An out-of-court settlement is also possible.

The virtue-signaling entertainment space generally is known for espousing one set of values publicly while the atmospherics can be a lot different behind the scenes.

That said, workers from all walks of life and in many industries can sometimes suffer mistreatment of various kinds, which includes decisions about hiring, pay raises, and promotions based on considerations other than merit. Whether in each instance, it rises to the level of provable illegality under the relevant employment law is another matter entirely.

Disney has not yet responded to media requests for comment about the legal filing. Most corporations, as standard operating procedure, decline to make statements about pending litigation.

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