ORLANDO, Fla. - A class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 250 senior administrative office workers, managers and specialists, accuses Walt Disney Parks and Resorts of laying them off so they could be replaced by foreign employees.
The suit was filed Monday by 30 named plaintiffs and was entered into the record Tuesday, according to court documents.
This is not the first time this issue has been taken to court. Similar actions were dismissed in state court in October and Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty told Channel 9 Wednesday that the company will fight this suit the same way they did the others.
“Like the two other dismissed cases brought by this lawyer, this latest lawsuit is nonsense and we will defend it rigorously,” she said.
The lawsuit alleges that about 250 people received notice in October 2014 that on Jan. 31, they would no longer have a job.
The employees being laid off were then responsible for training the people who would be replacing them, the lawsuit said.
Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the training issue in an interview with "The Hollywood Reporter" in June.
“The mistake that was made is that we asked people who were leaving to help train their successors. That's common in the business, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's right,” he said. “And looking back, I'm sorry that we did that because there's something insulting about that. That got a huge amount of attention and rubbed people the wrong way, and I completely understand why it would. It just does not pass a smell test, even if it is common practice.”
Iger also pointed out that the 250 people who were laid off were maintaining “legacy technology” that the company was moving away from.
“We decided that we had to upgrade technology, and the best way to do it was to use a company from the outside to provide that help,” Iger told "The Hollywood Reporter." “That affected 250 jobs. So we went to 250 people and said, we're basically eliminating your jobs because we need this higher, more modern technology.”
Of the 250 people who lost their jobs, 100 were rehired and another 170 jobs were created at the company, “So the net result was actually more jobs rather than fewer,” he said.
Pay for the positions the rehired individuals were given was comparable, if not higher, than their original jobs, Disney said.
Regardless, the lawsuit claims that the 30 named plaintiffs applied for open positions with Disney that they were “well-qualified for” but were not rehired.
According to the lawsuit, the individuals suing Disney claim they were laid off “based solely on their national origin and race.”
It is a claim that Disney denies, saying it did not replace the workers but transferred their job functions to outside vendors, distributed them among other employees or deemed them as unnecessary and eliminated them outright.
One of the plaintiffs, Leonardo Perrero, testified before Congress in February, breaking down in tears at one point while telling the story of the day he found out his 20-year career with Disney was soon to be over.
“I clearly remember going to the local church pumpkin sale and having to tell the kids we couldn’t buy any that year because of my job,” he said.
The Disney executive who delivered the news told Perrero and others that if they didn’t cooperate by training their replacements, they would get no severance pay, he testified.
“I started to think what kind of American I was becoming,” he said. “Was I going to become part of ruining our country by taking severance pay in exchange for training my foreign replacement? How many other American families would be affected by the same foreign worker that I trained?”
Over the course of 90 days, Perrero and his co-workers trained the foreign workers until the point when they completely took over the position.
“The final period of the 90 days was the most disgraceful and demoralizing, as we had to watch the foreign workers completely take over our jobs,” he said.
Among other things, the lawsuit is seeking reimbursement of lost wages and benefits and reinstatement to a comparable position at the company with back pay plus interest.
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