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As Disney Plus celebrates Pride, its parent is hit with sexual orientation discrimination suit

As Disney Plus celebrates Pride, its parent is hit with sexual orientation discrimination suit


Not a great look for Disney

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The logo of the online video library Disney+ is shown on the display of a smartphone.
Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Even as Disney’s marquee streaming service celebrates Pride Month with a prominently positioned carousel of LGBTQ+ titles on its homepage, the company has found itself at the center of a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit brought by an executive employee.

The complaint (PDF), as reported earlier by Deadline, was filed today in a California superior court on behalf of television executive Joel Hopkins, lawyers confirmed to The Verge. Hopkins had been with the company since 1994. The suit alleges that around the time that he was promoted to vice president of production finance for Touchstone Television in 2000, it became known that Hopkins identified as gay.

At this time, despite his tenure and previous promotions within the company, Hopkins “experienced an ongoing pattern of discrimination, including, but not limited to, being passed over for promotions and not being paid at a level commensurate with other department heads,” the complaint states.

In addition to allegedly being subject to what is characterized in the suit as unwarranted scrutiny and harassment, he was also allegedly blamed for problems that were not his responsibility as well as repeatedly overlooked for better opportunities for growth within the company. In some cases, these oversights were egregious to the extent that others with less or no relevant experience were promoted to these roles. He was also allegedly left out of executive meetings and alleges his role in the management of other employees was diminished as well. 

Hopkins “experienced an ongoing pattern of discrimination, including, but not limited to, being passed over for promotions.”

According to the suit, Hopkins “made direct and repeated complaints to HR” about the discrimination he had experienced, but the HR department and his employers “provided no relief whatsoever.” 

“After his sexual orientation become known to his superiors and after being discriminated against, and after being put on a dead-end career track and repeatedly denied promotions with no remedy or relief from HR, Plaintiff is informed and believes that yet again, in or around April 2021, several promotions occurred, but Plaintiff once again was not promoted,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff is informed and believes that these promotions occurred despite representations that Disney was hurting financially and was not promoting.”

The complaint was brought under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which bars workplace discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation. The suit seeks compensatory damages for lost benefits and wages as well as medical expenses and emotional distress, in addition to trial and lawyers’ fees. It also seeks “punitive damages in an amount appropriate to punish Defendants and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct for all causes of action in which such damages are recoverable.”

A spokesperson for Disney did not immediately return a request for comment. Neither Riverside Television Services nor ABC Signature Studios, which are also named as plaintiffs in the suit, immediately returned requests for comment.

While The Walt Disney Company is being sued over allegations of sexual orientation discrimination at the corporate level, its tentpole streaming service has made Pride Month a key focus of content curation on its homepage.

Disney Plus is the company’s crown jewel, and arguably its most consumer-facing product at present. The company’s business has essentially been reshuffled to focus almost exclusively on making Disney Plus a success. As Pride kicks off this month, a prominent “Celebrate Pride Month” column on the service features titles such as Out, Howard, Runaways, and more than half a dozen other Pride-friendly titles.