Disney Prevails In Retaliation Case
LOS ANGELES (CN) - A former Disney manager of collections and preservation failed to persuade a judge that he was retaliated against and blackballed after he reported sexual harassment of a male employee.
Robert Klein sued Walt Disney in Federal Court last year for retaliation, claiming that Disney fired him in September 2011 for reporting that his co-worker Andrea Carbone was sexually harassing another Disney employee, Kiara Gellar.
According to Klein's 22-page complaint, he felt compelled to report to human resources after Gellar came to him and complained.
Gellar allegedly told Klein that Carbone had asked Gellar to stay with her in her hotel room during the Walt Disney Archives' convention in August 2011, and had become "aggressive and confrontational" while explaining that she wanted to be in a relationship with him.
Klein claimed in the lawsuit that Carbone had a "history of sexual harassment" and had been "involved in a prior scandal." He did not expand on any of the alleged prior improprieties in the lawsuit.
As a manager of collections and preservation, Klein says, Disney let him represent the company on TV chat shows, including "The View," then shocked him by firing him on Sept. 6, 2011.
Klein says his employment was terminated under the pretext that he had lied during Disney's HR investigation, and had failed to disclose that he knew Carbone and Gellar had previously been in a relationship before Gellar was hired to work at Disney's photo archive.
Disney encouraged other employees to distance themselves from Klein, and his former coworkers de-friended him on Facebook and refused to provide him with references or job recommendations, he claims. He also claimed that Disney put him on a blacklist, blackballing him in the entertainment industry.
But U.S. District Judge Phillip Gutierrez sided with Disney on Klein's unlawful retaliation claims under state and federal law, granting the mass media company summary judgment.
In his June 6 order, Gutierrez agreed that Klein's reporting of the sexual harassment was protected and that the firing was an "adverse employment action" under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and under the California Fair Employment & Housing Act.
But Klein's claims faltered because he failed to make clear that Disney retaliated against him, the judge found.
Klein attempted to establish causation by alleging that Disney relied on Carbone's "biased" statements when human resources investigated the sexual harassment claims, and that Disney incorrectly concluded that he knew Gellar was romantically involved with Carbone before the former was hired.
But the judge found that Klein had failed to make clear that there was a link between Carbone's "purported bias" and Disney's decision to fire him.
"At bottom, then, plaintiff has neither shown that Ms. Carbone held any animus against him for engaging in protected opposition activity, nor has plaintiff shown that her animus - to the extent she had any - significantly impacted defendant's decision to terminate him. Causation thus crumbles," Gutierrez wrote.
Shana Bawek, the employee tasked with conducting HR's investigation, likewise "never criticized, reprimanded, derogated, or even insinuated that she disapproved of plaintiff's decision to report Mr. Gellar's allegations of sexual harassment to human resources," the judge added.
The judge branded as "nebulous" Klein's claim that Disney had previously covered up sexual harassment claims or deterred employees from reporting them.
"Plaintiff has not shown that anyone - not Ms. Carbone, not Ms. Bawek, and certainly not the final decision-maker [Senior Vice President of Human Resources] Mr. [Gary] Randall - harbored any intent to retaliate against him for conveying Mr. Gellar's allegations of sexual harassment to Human Resources," the 18-page court order concluded.