Disney Faces Pushback In $300M Pay Equity Class Action Over Allegedly “Inappropriately” Withholding Documents – Update

UPDATE, 1:45 PM: In a split decision of sorts, an L.A. Superior Court judge has given Disney a month to articulate why they can’t hand over dozens of requested documents in the pay equity class action.

At the end of a hearing today, Judge Elihu M. Berle indicated he agreed with the gist of the Mouse House’s assertions on protected and redacted paperwork. This is very similar to the last time Disney faced such allegations a few years ago from the plaintiffs. However, in terms of 86 specific correspondences, primarily with outside parties, the company will have to provide justification on why it wants certain paperwork kept out of the five-year old matter.

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“We are pleased that the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion, just as it did the first time the plaintiffs attempted to make this groundless argument,” said a Disney spokesperson to Deadline. The plaintiffs’ lawyers also

Certified as a class action in December 2023, the gender-centric case, initiated by Disney staffers LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore in mid-2019, could now include up to 12,000 employees. Originally anticipated to encompass up to $150 million in lost wages, the case could easily grow to $300 million when all is said and done.

A May 5, 2025 starting trial has been set on the court calendar.

PREVIOUSLY, 12:29 PM: A virtual hearing set this morning in L.A. Superior Court could result in a black eye for the Walt Disney Company and its five-year battle against what is now a sprawling pay equity class action suit.

Less than a year before an estimated trial start, Monday’s recently began session finds lawyers for Disney Studios staffers LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore facing off with Mouse House attorneys from Paul Hastings LLP over accusations that once again the Bob Iger-led company has been refusing to hand over requested documents.

“Disney has inappropriately withheld or redacted hundreds of documents on the basis of attorney-client privilege and work product protection,” states plaintiffs’ lead lawyer Lori Andrus in a May 16 motion to compel filing. “Disney’s formulaic and vague descriptions of why documents were withheld are not sufficient to justify withholding the documents, and the Court should issue an order requiring Disney to produce the documents and redacted information,” the Bay Area-based attorney added in the somewhat redacted document.

Back in December, to a “disappointed” Disney’s chagrin, LASC Judge Elihu M. Berle ruled that Rasmussen and Moore’s lawsuit claiming gender-based pay disparity can become a class-action suit. A formal class notice was issued on April 25 this year and sent out to probable plaintiffs via snail mail and email.

Specifically, having successfully fought off various moves by Disney to see the case tossed out, the plaintiffs and their lead lawyer Lori Andrus allege in their initial April 2019 filing that the company knowingly violated the Fair Employment & Housing Act and California’s Equal Pay Act by paying female employees less than male employees.

Seeking at least $150 million in lost wages, the suit could balloon in damages up to and beyond $300 million. It means the action could prove the biggest ever certified under California law. However, focusing on the time period of 2015 to today, the class action does not include women employed at Hulu, ESPN, Pixar and what was once Fox assets like FX or National Geographic.

Perhaps equally important as any hearing today, June 24 is also the last chance for the estimated more than 12,000 plaintiffs to opt out of the case.

Centering on the hearing at hand today, having been down this document dispute road to some extent a few years ago in this case, Disney is accusing the plaintiffs of conducting a fishing expedition where they determine the bait, the boat, and what actually constitutes fish.

“At bottom, the (mostly new) challenges raised in Plaintiffs’ Motion are based on nothing more than ‘we do not believe you,” bluntly claims the media giant in its frequently redacted June 10 filed response. “This is not sufficient.”

“Nor do Plaintiffs’ misleading ‘examples’ carry the day (for example, addressing only some entries in a chain and ignoring others—including emails to and from counsel—that clearly support the privilege),” attorney Felicia Davis says. “And their ‘categorical challenges’ obscure the fact that Plaintiffs ask the Court to order production of more than five hundred entries where attorneys are either the writer or the recipient of the email, or the author of the document.”

In their own filings on this matter, the plaintiffs say they believe the documents they want to see in discovery are emails and other correspondence between non-lawyer executives that likely discuss pay equity issues at Disney.

With a May 5, 2025 trial start date on the book, let’s just say the parties have a legal logjam right now. To that, neither side responded to Deadline requests on the matter and today’s hearing.

Yet, with one or two eyes on the court calendar, it appears at least one portion of the plaintiffs’ poignant case has reached an event horizon, for now.

“With service of Plaintiffs’ 25th set of Requests for Production and 10th set of Special Interrogatories on June 14, 2024, Plaintiffs have served all the written discovery Plaintiffs currently expect to serve,” the plaintiffs said earlier this month. Yet, at the same time, Rasmussen and Moore’s lawyer Andrus also notes that they have “identified two additional individuals whose depositions we would like to schedule in the near future, and will be adding to this list over the next several weeks. As well. the plaintiffs “reserve the right to serve additional, very targeted requests based on what we learn from responses to the discovery served or in deposition.”

In that vein, Disney and the plaintiffs have jointly requested another status conference before Judge Berle for the week of September 9. Fighting off this class action, Disney may be facing another such suit with the move last week by two current staffers to seek a class action of their own over the company’s “false representations” and now abandoned plan to relocate hundreds of employees from Southern California to Florida.

And they call summer the “slow season.”

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