Entertainment giant Warner Bros. just got slapped with a lawsuit that alleges it discriminated against its Asian execs.
Chung Chang, a former vice president at the now-defunct digital streaming service DramaFever, filed the suit against Warner Bros., which owned his company.
Warner Bros. shut down Dramafever, best known for hosting popular Korean dramas, in October and cut a significant portion of its workforce. But Chang, who is Korean-American, alleges that the entertainment giant retained its white executives while terminating all of the Asian-American execs, including him.
The lawsuit claims the company used the “closure of DramaFever to mask its discriminatory conduct.”
“The claims in this case are without merit,” Warner Bros. said in a statement provided to Variety. “We will vigorously defend ourselves and we expect to prevail.”
The court document details several instances in which Asian-American executives say they were “othered.” The suit alleges that during one of the first executive-level meetings held after Warner Bros. acquired Dramafever in 2016, an executive from the parent company “expressed surprise that the Korean executives did not have accents,” saying their English skills were “amazing.”
However, the “Korean executives” were Americans.
And at the close of the meeting, one of the Warner Bros. execs allegedly told those from DramaFever he wanted to give the Asian-American attendees a “good American hug.”
The lawsuit states that Warner Bros. handled concerns about discrimination inappropriately as well. Chang said he broached the topic with Patty Hirsch, who was hired to run Digital Labs, a division under DramaFever where Chang served as vice-president of finance, but claimed she didn’t address his concerns.
“Ms. Hirsch was uncomfortable hearing about Chang’s experience and, rather than directly addressing his concerns, she quickly changed the subject and moved on to another topic,” the lawsuit says.
In another incident, Chang said Hirsch claimed Warner Bros. sought to fill executive roles with “people who could sell,” identifying two white executives as examples.
“Warner Bros.’ culture of permissiveness allowed discrimination against Asian-Americans to go unchecked,” the lawsuit alleges before pointing out that the CEO of Warner Bros., Kevin Tsujihara, is Japanese-American.
“High-level White executives at Warner Bros. made offensive race-based comments and discriminated against and retaliated against Asian-Americans even though they reported to an Asian-American CEO.”
According to the legal document, Warner Bros. retaliated when Chang alerted the company that he’d hired an attorney of his claims of discrimination. The lawsuit says the company sought to falsely blame Chang for its potential legal liabilities due to its failure to properly license music in television and movies hosted by Digital Labs. But Chang alleges that copyright issues did not fall within his purview.
“While the discrimination and retaliation Plaintiff Chang faced at work were both upsetting and distressful, Warner Bros.’ tactics over the past two months have magnified Plaintiff’s stress,” the lawsuit says. “Plaintiff Chang is fearful that their actions will cost him his entire career.”