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Disney, ABC and John Ridley Sued For Discrimination By Former Development Executive

Disney has been hit with a new lawsuit from a development executive over allegations that she was underpaid because she’s an Asian American woman.

Asta Jonasson, in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims she was discriminated against by director John Ridley, whose production house has an overall deal with Disney through ABC Studios. She says she was fired in retaliation for issuing a complaint about unequal pay on the basis of her gender and race.

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The lawsuit comes on the heels of Disney facing growing legal woes over allegations of pay discrimination against women described in a class action filed in 2019. The case cleared a major hurdle last year when a judge certified a class of employees, who work across the company’s movie production arm, record labels, theme parks and home distribution subsidiaries, among various other units including broadcast and research and development. A trial is expected to be scheduled next year in what’s believed to be one of the largest classes ever suing under an equal pay act claim.

In a statement, Jennifer Redmond, a lawyer for Ridley, denied the allegations and called them “preposterous.”

Disney and ABC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wednesday’s complaint details Jonasson’s time working under Ridley at his International Famous Players Radio Picture Corp., which announced in 2016 an extension of the American Crime creator’s overall TV deal with Disney Television Studios’ ABC Studios.

“The announcement included that Ridley would expand his company, including hiring a dedicated development executive, i.e., the role Jonasson was already performing with the title of Director of Development,” states the complaint, which notes that she was assigned by ABC to work under Ridley when he was hired in 2014. “In response, Jonasson advocated to Ridley for equal pay.”

The job was offered to a white male, who did not take the position, the lawsuit says. Jonasson alleges she continued to oversee duties belonging to that role without proper compensation.

According to the complaint, Ridley allegedly dismissed concerns of discrimination from Jonasson, who told him in 2016 that he was not providing her the same opportunities that he gave men, such as writing room advancement and producing opportunities. Ridley, for example, had allegedly hired a male assistant as a coproducer on American Crime when Jonasson had already been performing producing duties on the prior season.

When she raised the concerns again in 2019, this time with data about her pay and duties in comparison with a white male coworker, Ridley responded that she “would have left him” if he allowed her to work on a freelance script, the lawsuit says. The incident occurred after an alleged confrontation with Ridley’s producing partner, who called her sexist expletive, per the complaint.

Around this time in 2020, Jonasson claims that Apple TV+ expressed concerns that Ridley was only hiring white men as department heads for the production of Five Days at Memorial. “Ridley’s response was to state, ‘They have me,’ i.e., a black male in a prominent position,” the complaint states. “Ridley’s dismissive response exemplified his hostility toward women and other minorities taking positions of leadership.”

Jonasson says supervisors at ABC and Disney failed to intervene despite being notified about the alleged discrimination. According to the complaint, she was fired in 2022 shortly after a white woman was hired as creative executive at Ridley’s production banner, at which point she complained in writing about the creator’s discrimination. She says she had not received a raise since 2014, despite excellent performance reviews and taking on more responsibilities.

Jonasson brings claims for discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination, among several other claims. She’s represented by Claire-Lise Kutlay of Greenberg Gross, who also filed a lawsuit on her behalf against Vin Diesel for sexual battery over an alleged assault at a Georgia hotel in 2010 when Fast Five was filming.

“After over a decade of being taken advantage of by men in positions of power in Hollywood and the major media organizations that enable and protect them, Jonasson now seeks to stand up for herself and countless others in Hollywood who, without bargaining power and in the face of systemic discrimination, are taken advantage of and left working long hours for low wages and little to no credit,” the complaint states.

In a statement, Kutlay said Hollywood has “historically underpaid women and minorities as compared to white men who perform the same work.”

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