Vice quietly agreed to pay almost $2 million to put an end to an ugly lawsuit, alleging that the media company engages in systemic pay discrimination against female staffers. The settlement, which must be approved by a California state court, comes just over a year after Vice was slapped with a proposed class action lawsuit by Elizabeth Rose, who worked at Vice from 2014 to 2016 in a management position, accused the company of violating the Federal Equal Pay Act and similar laws in New York and California, including the California Fair Pay Act, by consistently paying women “less than male employees for the same or substantially similar work."
In her lawsuit against Vice Media – the parent company to Vice, i-D, Noisey, and Garage, among other outlets – Ms. Rose alleged that the media company employed a pattern of pay disparity among men and women who did similar work, something she discovered after reviewing internal memos that revealed the salaries of several dozen employees. Rose pointed to at least one instance in which a male subordinate she hired made about $25,000 more per year then she did, and even more when he was later promoted to be her supervisor.
As many as 675 female current and former Vice Media staffers are said to be eligible to share in the settlement sum. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Vice denies that there was ever a centralized practice of using prior salary history to determine pay rate, but after mediation in the case, the company has decided to settle claims,” nonetheless.
The $1.875 million that Vice has agreed to pay is significantly less than “$7,000,000 to $9,740,000” figure that an expert for the plaintiffs determined to be the full amount of underpaid wages to Vice’s female employees. Of the nearly $2 million sum, “$650,000 is earmarked for [the plaintiffs’] lawyers, and $15,000 [will go to] service fees,” per the Hollywood Reporter, thereby, leaving $1.075 million for Vice's female employees in New York and California during the relevant time period. The average payout that each woman will actually recover is expected to be about $1,600 (minus taxes).
The lawsuit against Vice – which was founded in 1994 by Suroosh Alvi, Shane Smith, and Gavin McInnes, and boasts investors that include The Walt Disney Company, A&E Networks, and Twentieth Century Fox – came roughly two months after the New York Times published a lengthy exposé that uncovered four settlements involving allegations of sexual harassment or defamation against Vice employees, after which the media company announced that its chief digital officer, Mike Germano, would not return to the company.
With the lawsuit almost behind them, Vice Media has come under fire for entering into a $6.5 million deal with Philip Morris International to promote e-cigarettes to the 18- to 34-year-old market, the Financial Times revealed last week. The financial publication asserts, “Vice has agreed to a deal with [Philip Morris] to produce sponsored content endorsing e-cigarettes … amid a global regulatory clampdown on cigarette advertising” and on the harms associated with e-cigarettes.
In a statement to the FT, a spokesman for Vice framed the partnership not as “promoting e-cigarettes or tobacco products,” but instead, as part of a larger effort to “tackle some of the biggest issues facing the world in areas of health, environment, energy, and technology, among many others.” In terms of the Philip Morris deal, Vice says it will center on “a global mission to quit cigarettes.”
* The case is Elizabeth Rose v., Vice Media Inc., et al, BC693688, Superior Court of California (Los Angeles).