images: Garage, Vice, i-D

images: Garage, Vice, i-D

Vice Media might be a rapidly sinking ship. The Brooklyn, New York-headquartered digital media empire has been the topic of notably less hushed tones in recent months with things seemingly coming to a head in December when the New York Times revealed the ugly corporate culture of the parent company to Vice, i-D, Noisey, and Garage, among other outlets. By way of a lengthy exposé, the Times 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.

In response to the New York Times’ article, a spokesman for Vice Media  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 – “from the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.” 

Now, roughly two months after the Times’ hard-hitting article, and a week after the Wall Street Journal reported that Vice missed its revenue target in 2017 by more than $100 million, Vice is back in the spotlight, as a former female manager has filed suit against the media giant alleging that it engages in systemic pay discrimination against female staffers. 

Elizabeth Rose, who worked at Vice from 2014 to 2016 in a management position, accuses 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.” Passed in 1963 as part of the larger Fair Labor Standards Act, the Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination by employers and labor organizations based solely on sex. In other words, employers may not legally pay men and women different wages for equal work on jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility and are performed under similar working conditions.

Rose alleges in her complaint – which was filed on Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court – that on one instance, 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.

The lawsuit also asserts that Rose found that Vice employed a “systematic” 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. Still yet, Rose claims that after speaking with some of her female colleagues, she learned that they, too, were aware that they were being paid less than their male counterparts.

In addition to seeking compensatory damages and adjusted wages to compensate for the allegedly discriminatory pay policy, as well as injunctive relief to end to the company’s allegedly discriminatory practices, Rose is seeking class action certification. The lawsuit, given its proposed class action status, will give other Vice employees the opportunity to join the suit and share in the monetary damages that Rose is seeking, should the court  agree to approve the larger class of plaintiffs.

According to Rose that class of “similarly situated” individuals includes “hundreds of employees” subjected to Vice Media’s “systematic, company-wide, unlawful treatment.” 

A spokesman for Vice Media said on Tuesday, “As a company, we have made a significant commitment to a respectful, inclusive and equal workplace. That commitment includes a pay parity audit started last year, a goal of 50/50 female/male representation at every level by 2020, and the formation of a Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board.”

Rose’s counsel, Michael Morrison, a Santa Monica-based attorney, says that “even after the New York Times article came out, people can’t tell what Vice has actually done – besides lip service – to make changes. It’s time to hold them accountable.”

* The case is Elizabeth Rose v., Vice Media Inc., et al, BC693688Superior Court of California (Los Angeles).