Why Is Disney Being Sued for Gender Discrimination?

The Disney formula has undergone several changes since the company was founded. In recent years, female empowerment has become a major aspect of Disney movies. From Maleficent to Moana and from Frozen to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, many recent Disney films feature feminist themes. The company’s pretense of feminism may prove to be hypocritical, as ten women have sued Disney for gender discrimination.

Minnie and Mickey Mouse | Richard Harbaugh/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Disney sued by female employees

The Walt Disney Company employs 201,000 people, making it the seventh largest employer in the world according to Forbes. The same publication said that the Walt Disney Company is the 52nd best company for women to work for in the United States. The magazine came to this conclusion after surveying over 40,000 American women about their jobs. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, ten women who have been employed by Disney (Nancy Dolan, Anabel Pareja Sinn, Dawn Johnson, Kathy Ly, Ginia Eady-Marshall, Enny Joo, Rebecca Train, Amy Hutchins, Karen Moore, and LaRonda Rasmussen) have brought a class action lawsuit against the company alleging that they are not paid as much as their male colleagues.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls | Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Each of these women works at a different part of Disney’s corporate conglomerate. In addition to their famous film studio and theme park divisions, the Walt Disney Company also owns record labels, home distribution subsidiaries, a broadcast unit, and much more. 

Disney fights back

The defendant released a statement criticizing the lawsuit, saying “The Walt Disney Company described in Plaintiffs’ Complaint is not The Walt Disney Company that exists in fact and law. The Disney Companies categorically deny that they pay any female employee less than her similarly situated male coworkers and will vigorously defend themselves against each Plaintiff’s individual claims. But that is all this case is — an assortment of individual claims, based on highly individualized allegations.”

Since, in The Walt Disney Company’s view, this lawsuit is “an assortment of individual claims,” the company is trying to convince a judge to dismiss it as a class action suit. The lawsuit claims Disney has violated California’s Fair Pay Act of 1949. This law has never before inspired a class action lawsuit. 

The Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World | Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

On December 11th, 2019, a hearing will be held to determine whether or not the class action suit can move forward. Disney maintains that the pay disparity between these women and their male colleagues has nothing to do with their gender, but rather other factors such as experience, training, and education.

The company further alleges that “The comparisons Plaintiffs seek to make — across different jobs, different levels, and with potentially unspecified other differences — would demand an individual-by-individual review of the duties, skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions of each woman in every job, compared to each man in every job, to identify the correct comparator pool.”

What effects could this lawsuit have?

Star Wars merchandise | Dave J Hogan/Dave Hogan/Getty Images for Disney

A case like this could do significant harm to the Walt Disney Company’s current image. How many mothers would be comfortable buying their daughters Jyn Erso or Rey action figure knowing that the company that produced them discriminates against women at several different levels of operation? If the courts determine that Disney discriminates against women, it could ruin the company in the minds of consumers.