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Disney, John Ridley, ABC Sued For Discrimination & Retaliation

A former ABC director of development is taking the network, parent company Disney and John Ridley to court for gender, racial and economic discrimination and firing her when she complained about the alleged situation.

Full disclosure: Oscar winner Ridley is the co-host of Deadline’s Doc Talk podcast.

In a nine-claim complaint filed today in LA Superior Court (read it here), Asta Jonasson says she was pink-slipped in 2022 after over a decade at ABC after putting her frequently mentioned grievances about being overlooked for promotions and under paid in writing. Seeking a jury trial, Jonasson wants a variety of unspecified damages from the trio of Disney, Ridley, and ABC.

Throughout Ms. Jonasson’s assignment under Ridley and IFPRPC, her salary went unchanged, and did not match pay scales for the position she was performing. In fact, Ridley failed to offer Jonasson a salary commensurate with the role for which she was qualified and already performing. Instead Ridley offered a development position with a higher salary to a white male, who ultimately did not take on the role. Thereafter, Jonasson continued to perform her job functions, including those of development, for her lower salary. On multiple occasions, Jonasson complained to Ridley about the hypocrisy of his public positions on civil rights and his private failure to pay Jonasson, a woman of color, commensurate with her skill, effort, and responsibility. Ridley’s hypocrisy continues to this day, with the premiere of his film “Shirley,” a biographical film based on the life of Shirley Chisholm: the first black woman to be elected to the United States Congress and a vocal proponent of equal pay and women’s rights.

Jonasson also complained to ABC about this unlawful discrimination, but ABC failed to take any remedial action. In 2021, ABC and Ridley/IFPRPC hired Shannon Rhoades, a white woman, to perform tasks that Jonasson was already performing, but for substantially more money. Jonasson reiterated her complaints of discrimination. In response, her employment was summarily and wrongfully terminated by ABC and Ridley/IFPRPC.

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.

After three years at the network/studio, Jonasson was assigned to Ridley’s International Famous Players Radio Picture Corporation in 2014 as a director of development. Over the more than six years she worked directly for Ridley and expressing dissatisfaction with her position and compensation, as well as the filmmaker’s  attitudes, Jonasson and her Greenberg Gross attorneys declare “to her knowledge, ABC never attempted to investigate or remedy these complaints.”

Listing off a litany of misconduct, including a professional associate of Ridley’s supposedly calling Jonasson a “b*tch” and the 12 Years A Slave screenplay scribe doing nothing about it, the plaintiff and her lawyers express a theory in the filing about what was really going on at IFPRPC for the woman of color.

“In reaction to Jonasson’s complaint of unlawful discrimination, Ridley expressed anger and dismissed her concerns,” the 21-page filing in LASC Wednesday says, also claiming Ridley was not in private the “advocate for equal pay for women and people of color” he seemed to be in public. “When Jonasson again inquired as to the reason why Ridley failed to provide her with previously promised career opportunities, Ridley responded that if he had allowed her to work on a freelance script that Jonasson ‘would have left’ him. It was clear that Ridley deeply valued Jonasson’s work and contributions and sought to jeopardize her career to keep her working for him for unequal pay.”

You may recognize Jonasson’s name.

In December last year, she sued Vin Diesel for sexual battery.

Alleging that assault occurred in an Atlanta hotel room in 2010 during the filming of Fast Five. Having just been hired nine days beforehand as Diesel’s assistant, Jonasson said Samantha Vincent, the actor’s sister and head of his One Race production company, fired her hours after the alleged assault.

Filed under California’s Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act that lifted statutes of limitations, the Diesel suit seeks a number of unspecified damages. Vin Diesel’s lawyer Bryan Freedman told Deadline last year “Vin Diesel categorically denies this claim in its entirety.”

Today Disney/ABC declined comment on the legal action by Jonasson against them and Ridley. Representatives for Ridley did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment on the matter, if and when they do, we will update.

One of Jonasson’s lawyers did have a comment to make on the filing today.

“The entertainment industry has historically underpaid women and minorities as compared to white men who perform the same work,” stated  Claire-Lise Kutlay. “The law requires equal pay for equal work and protects employees who stand up for their rights,” the Greenberg Gross attorney added. “By filing this lawsuit, Ms. Jonasson adds her voice to this historic movement to combat injustice.”

Should be noted that Disney is facing a class action suit from potentially thousands of past and present female employees for paying them less than men. First filed in 2019 by Walt Disney Studios staffers LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore, the action claims that the media giant violated the Fair Employment & Housing Act and California’s Equal Pay Act. With Disney failing repeatedly to get the suit tossed out, the action is seeking at least $150 million in lost wages, and could grow in damages up to and beyond $300 million.

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