TMZ is well known for breaking celebrity news, but now former employees have come forward to say that is not all that goes on in the newsroom.
According to the unidentified former employees, the atmosphere is not only toxic, but staffers endure consistent verbal abuse, racism, misogyny, and other inappropriate treatment.
BuzzFeed News spoke with one current and 23 former employees after an ex-colleague decided to file a lawsuit against the new site’s parent companies Warner Bros. Entertainment and EHM Productions, claiming to have experienced gender discrimination and retaliation.
However, a TMZ spokesperson denounced those allegations, saying they are a “blatant attempt to use negative publicity and inaccurate claims to force” a monetary settlement.
But the current employee told BuzzFeed that the culture of TMZ is that of “unchecked abuse of power” that starts with the men in charge. Although there are few women in senior roles and the company hires people of color, the employee said it’s “because they know that they need to, as opposed to appreciating and valuing them.”
“If you’re talking about the rights of Black people, if you’re talking about misogyny, if you’re talking about equality amongst everyone, it’s never reflected in the workplace,” the employee said. “We’re reporting on all of that stuff, but we’re not doing it ourselves.”
The group asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation but added that despite TMZ’s reputation, the same kind of reckoning that has taken place at other media outlets has yet to hit the website’s newsroom.
“How they treat women in a demeaning manner transcends to how they represent women on their site. The two go hand in hand,” a former Warner Bros. employee said.
Harvey Levin created the brand that has since expanded beyond its website, venturing off into TMZ TV, TMZ Live, TMZ Sports, and the TMZ Celebrity Tour. But the creator and other executives are accused of screaming and cursing at employees on a regular basis, as Levin is specifically accused of calling people “retarded” or “morons.”
Former employees also recalled Levin saying, “Talking to you guys is like talking to a room full of special ed kids” and “My dog takes better direction than you.”
Another former employee discussed how they felt physically threatened by executives at TMZ, and that they called them a “fucking retard,” “fucking piece of shit,” and “fucking dummy.”
“You don’t get an apology or anything like that,” one former employee said. “They just pretend it never happened until the next thing that pisses them off happens, and then you get another angry outburst from them.”
In 2014, Ryan Naumann, a former employee, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after Levin allegedly outed him for being gay to his coworkers, according to records obtained by BuzzFeed News. Another former Warner Bros. employee who worked closely with TMZ said she filed a Human Resource complaint against an executive producer alleging gender discrimination. However, an investigation into the matter found no merit to her allegations.
Since then, six other former employees have made HR complaints with Warner Bros. detailing their experiences while working at TMZ, while others chose not to come forward out of fear of retaliation.
Warner Bros. nor Levin responded to multiple requests for comment. However, a second current employee gave a statement to BuzzFeed saying, “the word retard has never and would bever be used within TMZ by anybody in authority,” adding that “it’s not true that our hiring or firing practices are based on race and gender.”
“TMZ goes to great lengths to ensure that it has diverse hiring practices and brings people in of all backgrounds,” the employee said.
It’s tough to say the employee’s argument against the allegations hold weight, considering the fact that complaints against managers date years back. In 2014, another former employee, Taryn Hillin, filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., EHM Productions, TMZ Productions, and executive producer Evan Rosenblum accusing each of gender discrimination and wrongful termination and now, even as recent as August, former employee Bernie Zilio filed a complaint with the EEOC against TMZ, Warner Bros. Entertainment, and EHM Productions alleging gender discrimination and retaliation.
Hillin described TMZ as a “boys club” that actually promotes a hostile work environment for women, claiming Rosenblum “routinely yelled at and humiliated” her by making comments like “don’t be a girl.” According to court documents, the suit went into private arbitration but was later dropped after mediation.
“It is racist, it is incredibly misogynistic, and there’s no change there,” the current TMZ employee explained to Buzzfeed. “But that’s what you’re hoping for, that changes come from somewhere higher.” Former employees collectively are unhappy with the lack of changes given the numerous complaints against TMZ.
“It’s one thing to work for a salacious brand but one that actually respects its female employees, but this is not the case. This is a case of men in power and in control who like to represent women a certain way and who just don’t have respect for female colleagues,” a former Warner Bros. employee said. “When is that going to change? When are they going to shift their mindset for how they treat women who work for the brand?”
The group holds Levin at fault for the culture of the newsroom, which is enabled by other men in charge of the room and the show, including Stuart Alpert, executive producer, and general manager; head of legal affairs Jason Beckerman; Rosenblum, executive producer at TMZ and TMZ Sports; and co-executive producer Charles Latibeaudiere.
Former male employees also outed other senior-level executives, claiming they made sexually explicit comments about female employees. One said a colleague showed him porn on his computer.
“It’s just a toxic environment of extreme measures of blaming, scapegoating, bullying, harassing people to get what they want, and being biased against women,” a former Warner Bros. employee said.
Sources close to the situation say executives at Warner Bros. know Levin is a problem but hinted at a reason as to possibly why he hasn’t been reprimanded for his misconduct.” Are you surprised that the person who has made a career off of getting everyone’s dirt, are you surprised when that guy is not being cast out?” one former TMZ employee said.