Live Nation Entertainment has placed production chief Heather Parry on a leave of absence in response to a Variety investigation into allegations of verbally abusive behavior and offensive language.
The move comes more than six months after 10 employees filed HR complaints, according to multiple sources interviewed by Variety over the past four months. The complaints apparently went nowhere until Friday, as Live Nation prepared an official response to this story. Parry, who is an executive producer of “A Star Is Born” and produced documentaries with Lady Gaga and Sean “Diddy” Combs, has operated the film and TV production arm of Live Nation Entertainment since December 2015.
“At Live Nation we pride ourselves on having an open, accessible and inclusive culture,” a Live Nation spokesman said in a statement. “We take all employee complaints seriously and have retained a third party to investigate. We have placed Ms. Parry on leave during this time.”
Live Nation’s initial response to employee allegations was much different. Two top executives held a meeting with four of the complaining employees in June, an audio recording of which was obtained by Variety. Two employees told executives they had sought therapy to deal with Parry, and one said he was suffering health problems because of her. The executives acknowledged working for Parry was not easy. But they also said that if she were let go, the whole division might have to shut down.
“The entity exists with her,” Live Nation president Joe Berchtold said on the recording. “So when we’re talking about dramatic steps, we’re talking about what happens to the other 12 people” at the production division.
Michael Rapino, the CEO of Live Nation Entertainment, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Parry issued a statement through her attorney, Martin Singer, in which she said she was committed to maintaining “a safe and respectful workplace.”
“It’s unfortunate, as a woman running a new division at one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, that you can be targeted simply because of how others perceive a woman in power,” she said. “I am deeply saddened by these accusations and gossip that in no way reflect who I am, or what I truly value. If I hurt someone, I am sorry and apologize as that was never my intention.”
On Dec. 19, a person claiming to be a current Live Nation Prods. employee gained access to the company’s Twitter feed and posted an open letter to Rapino, blasting the company for protecting an “abusive monster.”
“I want a normal working environment,” the anonymous person wrote. “One where I don’t have to fear being called an expletive or have something thrown at me or one where I don’t have to cry at my desk daily. Is that too hard to ask for?”
Over the past several months, Variety interviewed 23 former employees of Live Nation Prods. and of Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison, where Parry had previously worked for 10 years. Most of the people would only speak on condition of anonymity, but those interviewed on background described Parry as manipulative, demeaning, and verbally abusive.
Joseph Shepherd, a former digital producer at Live Nation Prods., says working for Parry forced him to seek therapy and medical treatment for anxiety and other ailments.
“It was legitimately the worst experience of my life,” he says. “I don’t understand why nothing has been done.”
Shepherd says he heard Parry use the terms “f-ggot” and “c-nt” on multiple occasions. He says she was especially hard on women.
“She hated every single woman that worked there,” he says.
He also says that once Parry became frustrated with a black employee and said, “Black people, you can’t count on them for anything.”
Two other employees, who asked not to be identified, say they also heard Parry make disparaging remarks about African-Americans.
“I was degraded daily by her,” Shepherd says. “She felt like she was OK to say those things.”
In frustration, he left the company in August.
In her statement, Parry denied making discriminatory comments.
“To be clear, I have never been sexist, racist or homophobic,” she said. “Anyone who really knows me, knows that to be true.”
Several assistants, who asked not to be identified, told Variety of a pattern of abuse. One said she suffered from panic attacks because of Parry, and that Parry once threw an iPhone charger at her. A second employee confirmed having witnessed the incident, which was also reported to HR.
“My client categorically denies that she threw an iPhone charger at an assistant,” Singer said.
Several assistants said they were afraid to go to the bathroom, lest they not be at their desks when an important call came in. Several said Parry would call on the weekends with extreme demands, and they became terrified whenever the phone rang. Several reported crying at their desks.
It is not uncommon in Hollywood for executives to saddle their personal assistants with endless, demeaning tasks and personal errands. One former production employee at Live Nation Prods. described being required to arrange Parry’s underwear drawer and oversee her home remodeling job.
Eric Lucht was excited to start work at Sandler’s production company in the summer of 2013. His only previous experience was an internship at CAA, and a friend connected him to an opening as Parry’s assistant. During his first week on the job, another assistant told him, “You’re too happy right now. You haven’t been in here long enough.”
He quickly discovered what she meant. Parry had a long list of demands, and would berate him for minor slip-ups.
“I dreaded every day going in,” he said. “It was just constant dodging of land mines, and if something blows up, it’s just the end of the world.”
Lucht says Parry never seemed to see him as a person. After a few months, he hit a breaking point.
“It was just a meat grinder,” he says. “I was a shell of a person by the time I was done working there.” When he quit, he says she told people she had to fire him — which he says was not true. He says the experience caused him to get out of the business.
“I think she is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the entertainment industry,” he says.
Alexandra Hernandez says she lasted just two days at Happy Madison before deciding to quit in 2014. She says she thought it would be fun to work for Sandler’s company. But, it didn’t turn out that way.
“Everyone said she’s a hardass,” she says. “But then I met her and it…became immediately clear within the first few hours of her presence in the office that she had free rein to behave in a way she felt was appropriate.”
Parry had a lengthy “assistant manual” at Happy Madison, obtained by Variety, which laid out the requirements of the job in extreme detail. Among dozens of other tasks, the assistant had to keep track of Parry’s prescriptions, make sure her car was serviced, take care of her dog (including pouring melted butter on the dog’s food), and make sure that Parry’s home was kept stocked with Mountain Valley water.
Hernandez raised a concern about some of the duties.
“She got up in my face,” she says. “I do remember shaking in my boots… As a fellow woman, I didn’t expect a woman to treat me that way.”
Hernandez adds, “That was the sign I needed that the entertainment industry was no longer for me.”
She is now a yoga instructor.
Other low-level employees, who asked not to be identified, told Variety that Parry would zero in on their insecurities and exploit them. A receptionist at Happy Madison said Parry regularly called her fat.
She would also play on their desire to succeed in the entertainment business, telling them they would never make it. “It does not matter who you are,” said one assistant. “She would find a way to make sure that you knew you were not her, and you were never going to be that.”
The mistreatment was not limited to assistants. Wynn Wygal went to work as a development executive at Live Nation Prods. in November 2017. She said she immediately noticed that her colleagues tensed up whenever Parry walked by.
Wygal soon found that she was prone to angry outbursts, and her moods were impossible to predict.
“Heather berated me on a regular basis for a whole slew of trivial reasons,” Wygal says. “She didn’t like my tone of voice on a call. She didn’t like the way I phrased my emails. She didn’t appreciate my body language in a meeting… I braced whenever she called me into the office.”
Once, she says Parry threatened to fire her for not responding to an email within 15 minutes when she was at lunch with an agent.
Wygal says others were treated even worse, and that Parry was especially hard on the women.
“One day I was sitting in our lawyers’ office when she came in and berated our lawyer right in front of me and the other attorney,” Wygal says. “On multiple occasions I had colleagues come to me distressed and often crying about how Heather had treated them that day.”
“She’s an emotional terrorist,” Wygal says.
After six months, Wygal found a new job. Several other female executives told Variety that Parry seemed to single them out for abuse. She would launch feuds with female rivals and engaged in Machiavellian power plays.
In response to this story, Live Nation Productions made two people available to speak in support of Parry. Ryan Kroft was hired to run the company’s unscripted programming in August. He is gay, and says he never heard her use the term “f-ggot,” or behave in a homophobic way.
“There’s a culture in the entertainment business of people being pretty tough,” Kroft says. “She’s definitely demanding. She knows what she wants and is not afraid to be direct in asking for it and in correcting you if she doesn’t feel she got what she wanted.”
Sean Combs, who co-produced his documentary “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” with Parry, says he, too, had never heard her make a discriminatory remark.
“I heard she was tough. I think some jobs, you gotta be tough,” Combs says. “I never heard her do anything or say anything negative, except try to complete the job to the best of her ability. Sometimes people take that another way. That’s my interaction with her. I can’t speak for anybody else.”
The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have transformed how workplaces deal with sexual harassment and discrimination, and have led to quick firings for executives who use unacceptable language in the office, including most recently Netflix chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland and Paramount television president Amy Powell.
But bullying employees is still largely accepted in Hollywood. Some argue that there are rationales for it: it toughens people up, it weeds out those who can’t hack it, or it’s an essential part of the creative process.
But experts who study workplace abuse contend that those are rationales used to justify the exploitation of power.
“I’ve heard it all — none is an excuse to abuse another person,” says Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute.
Experts say that such an environment will screen out people based on their willingness to withstand abuse, and not on their talents.
“The hazing and the breakdown process is trying to identify those who will act in a subservient way,” says David Yamada, a law professor at Suffolk University. “You end up with people who are technically competent but emotionally subservient.”
Lisa Kath, a professor at San Diego State University, has delved into the psychology of workplace bullying.
“Insecurity fuels a lot of it,” she says. “They think, ‘I’ll puff myself up and make myself feel powerful by exerting this dominance over someone else.’ It isn’t healthy. That type of behavior is not required for creative genius. If it’s not required, then why put up with it?” The only way to stop it, she says, is with leadership from the top of the company.
The Live Nation employees who complained to HR about Parry say they were motivated to speak up by the Time’s Up movement. Some gave candid exit interviews, explaining why they were leaving after only a few months on the job. An HR employee was assigned to interview employees.
In a taped conversation with one employee, which Variety has obtained, the HR staffer offered his sympathies. “This is undeniably the worst case I have ever seen,” he said. “Here we are employing somebody who by all appearances is evil.”
But the staffer did not believe that Live Nation executives would hold Parry accountable. Instead, he encouraged the employee to seek another job.
“I apologize I wasn’t able to move the needle for you guys,” he said.
Variety also obtained audio of the meeting between the two Live Nation executives — Joe Berchtold and CFO Kathy Willard — and four staffers that was held in June. Berchtold and Willard tried to convey the message that they had heard the complaints, but they also encouraged the staff to forgive Parry.
“There has to be some letting go on your side, otherwise it doesn’t work,” Willard said. “She’s got to show you improvements, I get that. But if you’re going to hold all this stuff, it won’t get better for you.”
Willard also seemed to make allowances for Parry’s behavior because she is “creative.”
“We all know working with creatives, it’s an interesting world,” she said. “Creatives are different personalities.”
Berchtold also acknowledged that Parry was unlikely to change.
“Do I think that Heather will ever stop being emotional and passionate and strong in her activities, which may result in feelings sometimes? No,” he said in the recorded meeting. “I don’t think working for her is ever going to be an easy environment.”
But he said the company would nevertheless strive to create a positive work environment.
“In the world we’re in, that doesn’t mean that people are never going to yell or scream on occasion,” he added.
Willard concurred: “It doesn’t mean your world is not without stress. It’s not. We’re not saying it’s going to be rosy and easy. We’re trying to fix the abnormalities.”
One of the employees tried to explain that yelling was not the issue. “Yelling is fine,” she said. “We’re all tough. We can be yelled at and that’s fine. It’s crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed.”
The executives agreed that there is a line. Berchtold gave a list of things the company would not endorse: “behavior around certain language, how she talks about other people, throwing things.”
Discrimination and harassment against members of protected groups could expose the company to legal liability, and are banned by the company’s code of conduct. But the code of conduct does not bar workplace bullying or equal-opportunity abuse.
In the meeting, the employees were frustrated that Parry had not been put on leave or fired. But Willard argued that her talents were too valuable to the company.
“In the same way that we work with people who have alcohol issues or drug issues, we’re not just going to throw them out. Especially if we think they’re creative and talented people.”
Singer, Parry’s attorney, says she was not punished after the June meeting.
“My client was not disciplined by the company and it was her understanding that due to the circumstances of the complaints, they lacked credibility,” he said.
Many employees are angry that executives at Happy Madison and Live Nation allowed them to walk blindly into a work environment that threatened to damage or end their careers.
“The industry around it was kind of accepting it,” said one former Happy Madison employee. “It’s the industry that needs to change as a whole.”
“We’re entering into this new culture in Hollywood,” said one former assistant. “There’s a lot of verbal, emotional, and mental abuse throughout the industry. It’s a really hard topic to tackle because where is the line between a really tough boss and an abusive boss? That is going to be a huge topic of debate very soon.”