A former TMZ production assistant and on-air contributor has filed a federal discrimination and retaliation complaint against TMZ host Harvey Levin and Warner Bros. Entertainment. A lawsuit may be down the line.
The complaint says that Bernadette Zilio, along with other females colleagues, was belittled, abused, and held to different and more stringent standards. Furthermore, she said she was “excluded from business and social interactions in which only male employees participated, denied advancement opportunities, and retaliated against when she resisted the sexist and misogynistic ways.” The complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Deadline reports.
Zilio had been with the company since 2015 but was fired in February of this year. She described the culture at TMZ studios and its sister site TooFab as a “boy’s club” with a 100% bro fest atmosphere; she also likened it to a “freaking frat house.”
When she attempted to go through the corporate channels to do something about it, she was punished, let go, and threatened.
“In addition to the discriminatory work environment, Ms. Zilio’s complaints on behalf of herself and her female colleagues about the unlawful treatment were met with retaliatory discipline and abuse,” the 27-page filing read. “Incredibly, Ms. Zilio was terminated within a few days of Warner Bros. and EHM’s Human Resources telling Ms. Zilio that it rejected her complaints about the sexist and misogynist treatment, and instead accepted the excuses her male supervisors gave for the differential treatment.”
Zilio refused to sign separation agreements and was walked out of the door, shortly after the supposed probe by WB Employee Relations Experts, who investigated her claims, suddenly wrapped. She also had a run-in with TooFab’s managing editor Shayam Dodge, who had accused her of “plagiarism and misquoting” in some of her articles.
“Following her termination, Ms. Zilio retained counsel to assert her claims of discrimination and retaliation,” the complaint noted. “Her counsel informed Respondents that she intended to pursue such claims in litigation.”
Levin, his production company EHM, Dodge and TooFab’s senior producer Ross McDonagh were all named as respondents in the action.
”In response, on July 29, 2020, Respondents, through their counsel, threatened to sue Ms. Zilio for ‘substantial liability’ if she were to share the details of her claims publicly,” the complaint continued. ”Respondents’ threat constitutes further retaliation since such threat was clearly intended to intimidate Ms. Zilio and dissuade her from engaging in protected activity.”
But now, EHM is responding publicly, accusing Zilio of trying to rewrite history. “As Ms. Zilio and her attorney are well aware, TooFab.com parted ways with Ms. Zilio because of multiple and documented incidents of plagiarism and inaccurate reporting,” a spokesperson for the TMZ and TooFab production company told Deadline on Tuesday. “These incidents were addressed at the time, and Ms. Zilio acknowledged her errors. This is a blatant attempt to use negative publicity and inaccurate claims to force TooFab and TMZ to pay a monetary settlement. We will vigorously defend against any attempt to mischaracterize what is a legal and justified employment decision.”
Only time will tell how the EEOC and DFEH will decide if Zilio’s complaint will be heard before a judge, the latter usually is inclined to grant the complainant’s wishes.