Live Nation Entertainment has been sued by a furloughed executive, Candace Newman, who alleges that she was retaliated against for complaining about race and gender discrimination in the workplace, then cut loose with coronavirus-related staff reductions cited as the excuse.
“This case epitomizes the issue at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement — systemic racism,” the lawsuit contends right at the outset.
In the suit, which was filed Wednesday in L.A. County Superior Court, the attorneys for Newman, who is Black, contend that although “over half of the Live Nation artists are Black,” the company “fosters a toxic work environment of harassment, discrimination, and retaliating against employees, like Plaintiff, who complain about a lack of diversity and race discrimination in the workplace.”
The lawsuit alleges “wrongful termination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act” as one of its claims. But, in a response provided to Variety, Live Nation says that’s baseless because Newman hasn’t actually been fired.
“We were surprised by Ms. Newman’s claim of wrongful termination, as she is still an employee at Live Nation,” the company said in its statement. “With concerts on pause due to the pandemic we unfortunately had to implement furloughs across our company, most heavily impacting our concerts division, but our furloughed staff are still valued employees, receiving healthcare and other benefits.”
Live Nation’s response said the company “cannot comment on specifics of the lawsuit while in active litigation; however, we would like to be clear that any allegations of bias and discrimination in Ms. Newman’s claims are completely unfounded. Live Nation is fully committed to being an anti-racist and equitable organization and we continuously strive to foster an environment where employees feel comfortable and empowered.”
Newman had worked at Live Nation, which encompasses touring, ticketing and corporate sponsorships, among other business divisions, for 11 years, starting as an executive assistant and rising through the ranks until she was ultimately named director, US concerts and touring, last year.
According to the court papers, Newman was “scrutinized and criticized far more harshly than her non-Black and/or male peers. When she finally reached a point where she could no longer tolerate this unfair treatment, Ms. Newman made a formal complaint of discrimination and retained counsel to protect her rights. In a blatant and malicious act of retaliation, Live Nation turned the investigation on her, alleging that she had created the ‘hostile work environment.’ Live Nation terminated her employment under the guise of a ‘furlough’ due to Covid-19.”
The suit says Newman played a role in bringing Toni Braxton to the company and also booked tours for Santana, the Backstreet Boys and David Blaine, as well as “booked venues which in some instances generated income of upwards of $100 million,” though it’s unclear of the timespan upon which the metric was based.
Among Newman’s contentions is that after she created the company’s first women’s resource group in 2015, Empower Network, which attracted more than 300 Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees as members, she was instructed to dismantle the group. Newman’s lawyers say she was told to shut it down by a Caucasian SVP who informed her that only employees at the VP level and above were allowed to start resource groups, despite what the suit describes as “the lack of representation of employees of color in those positions.”
Newman’s suit also points to a 2016 performance memo issued by her two immediate supervisors, described as both male Caucasians, evaluating her job performance as sub-standard and threatening termination, though she says no problems had been brought to her attention previously. The filing maintains that the two superiors had started out below her on the ladder and gotten fast-tracked to become superiors to Newman, “the only Black person working in the touring division at the time.”
She later discovered she was being paid less than other non-Black or male employees at a similar director level — one-third to 40% less — though the suit acknowledges that after complaining directly to CEO Michael Rapino, her pay was upped going forward.
In September 2019, Newman was disciplined by Live Nation’s HR department with a “final written warning” citing two incidents, one which she said began with her complaining about a co-worker drinking and being belligerent at a company party, and another involving a new hire at the company who complained about her manner.
Newman submitted a complaint in February of this year, the suit says, believing that she was in danger of being unfairly terminated. Shortly after stay-at-home orders were put into effect in March, she was put on leave and told an investigation had been put into effect concerning her allegedly creating a hostile work environment. Her own complaints were dismissed while those against her continued to be investigated, she said.
On June 18, Newman was told she was being furloughed, effective July 1. “Ms. Newman is aware of other non-Black and/or male employees who had not complained of discrimination, and who were not furloughed and continue to work at Live Nation despite the pandemic,” the suit says.
Newman’s attorneys, Toni J. Jaramilla and May Mallari, ask the court for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction against discriminatory and retaliatory practices at the company, among other requests.
Live Nation announced in May that it would be furloughing 20 percent of its full-time staff. Further announcements about staff reductions have not been made.