A former executive at the Asian-themed OTT service DramaFever filed suit on Wednesday, accusing Warner Bros. of laying off Asian-American executives due to bias.
Chung Chang was vice president of finance at DramaFever, which Warner Bros. acquired from SoftBank in 2016. In October, the company announced that it would shut down the service and lay off 20% of the workforce.
Chang, 46, was among those who were let go. In the suit, he alleges that three other Asian-American executives were also terminated on the same day, while four white vice presidents were retained. Chang alleges this was in keeping with a pattern of discriminatory comments he and other Asian-American employees had experienced since the Warner Bros. acquisition.
Chang reported to Patty Hirsch, who was hired in March 2018 to run Warner Bros. Digital Labs. Chang claims that when he told Hirsch that he was Korean-American, she said, “Oh, you’re not Chinese?”
The suit also states that in a meeting shortly after the acquisition, a Warner Bros. media executive expressed surprise that the Asian-American DramaFever executives did not have accents, and said it was “amazing” how good their English was.
Chang also alleges that Hirsch once said Warner Bros. wanted to fill executive roles with “people who could sell,” and named two white executives as examples.
“They just wanted people in executive leadership who look and sound like they do, and who the Company believed would present better to Studio executives in Burbank,” the suit states. “In other words, Warner Bros. and Ms. Hirsch sought out White executives who were racially and/or ethnically similar to the existing White leadership at the Company in the biased belief that they would be more effective operating within a similar culture.”
The suit notes that Warner Bros.’ CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, is Japanese-American. Nevertheless, the suit states that the majority of Warner Bros. executives are white.
“Warner Bros.’ culture of permissiveness allowed discrimination against Asian-Americans to go unchecked,” Chang alleges. “High-level White executives at Warner Bros. made offensive race-based comments and discriminated against and retaliated against Asian-Americans even though they reported to an Asian-American CEO.”
Chang says he raised concerns about how Asian-Americans were treated with Hirsch, and later found his responsibilities were curtailed. After he was laid off, Chang says he retained an attorney and put the company on notice that he would pursue a discrimination claim.
At that point, Chang alleges that the company launched an internal probe with the aim of blaming Chang for costly music licensing issues on the OTT service.
“The claims in this case are without merit,” Warner Bros. said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend ourselves and we expect to prevail. Additionally, the allegations against Ms. Hirsch are completely unfounded and she has our unequivocal support.”