Update: Disney Oscar Winner Vehemently Denies Racial, Sexist Lawsuit

in Disney, Movies & TV

Walt Disney castle logo

Credit: Disney

John Ridley, novelist, playwright, and the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave (2012), is being sued for racial and gender-based discrimination by a former Disney executive, but he’s not putting up these accusations quietly.

Mickey Mouse over lawsuit paperwork
Credit: Inside the Magic

As Inside the Magic recently reported, Asta Jonasson, a former development executive at the Disney-owned ABC Network, has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the Walt Disney Company, ABC Studios, and John Ridley after more than a decade of employment. Jonasson claims that she was abruptly fired after complaining that she, as a woman of color, was being underpaid compared to less experienced white men and women who were offered or hired for the same work.

Disney is also facing a separate, historically huge class action lawsuit from thousands of current and former employees that alleges the company systemically underpays women compared to men. The suit reads, in part:

Disney violated the Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”) because its common practices caused a disparate impact on women. It also violated California’s Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), which does not require Plaintiffs to identify the cause of the disparities, because it pays women less for substantially similar jobs… Injunctive relief to address systematic disparities is unattainable through individual actions as the scope of relief would be limited to the scope of the violation shown, and an individual plaintiff would not obtain the breadth of discovery of a class. And many class members are unlikely to bring individual actions.

Related: Disney Takes Huge Marvel ‘Avengers’ Win, Lawsuit Dismissed

The Walt Disney Company building logo split into three separate images with tears through the front gates.
Credit: Edited by Inside The Magic

Asta Jonasson’s lawsuit against Disney and John Ridley lists a number of specific instances in which her verbal complaints regarding her rate of pay and promised opportunities were ignored or dismissed. Most damningly, a passage in the lawsuit describes a particularly harsh encounter between Jonasson and Ridley:

In February 2016, Jonasson complained to Ridley that his producing partner, Michael McDonald, had called her a “b***h” twice and demanded the behavior to end. The only response from Ridley was to dismissively ask if McDonald was joking. Ridley told Jonasson that he would not be taking any steps to address the sexist comments. Ridley never investigated the complaint or confronted McDonald. Ridley’s actions clearly expressed that complaints of harassment and discrimination would not be taken seriously.

The former executive says she was fired after eventually filing a written complaint to John Ridley’s International Famous Players Radio Picture Corporation, which has an overall deal with the Walt Disney Company. Her lawsuit asks for “compensatory damages and other special and general damages according to proof, including, without limitation, lost earnings, salary, bonuses, and other job benefits.”

Related: Disney Hit with New Lawsuit Over Acclaimed Marvel Movie, Accused of Stealing Indie Art

Unsurprisingly, John Ridley has quickly struck back against the lawsuit from Asta Jonasson (per Deadline). Sheppard Mullin attorney Jennifer Redmond, who represents the writer and director, issued a statement vehemently denying the accusations, saying, “The allegations against Mr. Ridley are false, and the allegation that Mr. Ridley is biased against Asian-Americans is preposterous. We look forward to proving as much in court.

Disney has not yet issued a statement regarding the Jonasson discrimination lawsuit, nor has ABC Studios.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
Credit: Fox

John Ridley won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, a historical biopic starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o. Among many other credits, he has also written for DC Comics and was developing a series for the Disney-owned Marvel Studios for ABC at one point. Currently, he is the creator and showrunner of the American Crime anthology series.

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