Geffen Playhouse Accused of Axing Director for Age, Illness

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By David McAfee

The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles was accused of firing its longtime artistic director because of his age and disability ( Arney v. Geffen Playhouse, Cal. Super. Ct., No. BC673176, complaint filed 8/22/17 ).

Randall Arney, who is 61 and has Bell’s palsy—a condition characterized by facial paralysis—sued the theater Aug. 22 for age discrimination, disability discrimination, libel, and slander. He said he was “stunned and shattered” when the company abruptly announced its decision not to renew his contract because of “succession” concerns.

Bradley C. Gage of Goldberg & Gage in Woodland Hills, Calif., who represented a former deputy fire chief in similar litigation, explained that ultimately the facts will decide whether discrimination was involved.

“Discriminatory intent can be demonstrated by direct evidence, like derogatory terms, or circumstantially. Circumstantial evidence could include replacing an older employee with a substantially younger employee,” Gage told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 24 email, adding that “a 20 year gap would qualify as being substantially younger.”

The lawsuit comes a day after the theater announced the hiring of Matt Shakman, who is 20 years younger than his predecessor, as artistic director.

Arney was artistic director for 17 of the theater’s 21 years in existence and was suddenly pushed out in February, his attorneys said in the complaint.

‘Unblemished Record’

“He has an exemplary, unblemished record of service at the Geffen, having created an exciting, innovative, successful regional theater and received glowing performance assessments and accolades for his work,” Los Angelese attorney Sana Swe wrote in the 26-page complaint.

“The Geffen stripped an award-winning and esteemed Artistic Director of control of the final decades of his career by refusing to renew his contract because of discrimination and defaming him in the process.”

The complaint also names Martha Henderson and Pamela Robinson, co-chairs of the Geffen’s board of directors, as defendants.

Decision ‘For the Future’

Arney says that, after he was notified the Geffen wouldn’t renew his contract, Henderson and Robinson sent a letter to the board saying the decision was made “to position the theater for the future.” That letter also contained “false and misleading” assertions about Arney being a part of that decision, according to the lawsuit.

“To immunize its discriminatory employment decision, the Geffen engaged in intentional deceit to cover its tracks, relying on a succession of lies,” counsel to Arney wrote.

Gage says his firm has handled numerous cases in which employers felt a worker was too old for the company to be “well positioned for the future.”

“Sometimes, comments like making room for the younger guys, or succession planning is evidence of discriminatory intent based on age,” he said. “Similarly, we have represented employees who were terminated shortly after the employer learned of a medical condition. If the employer is able to accommodate the employees condition--that is if the employee can handle the essential functions of their jobs, with or without accommodation, it is wrongful to terminate them.”

A representative for the Geffen told Bloomberg BNA that it won’t comment on pending litigation, per its policy.

Counsel information for the theater company wasn’t immediately available.

To contact the reporter on this story: David McAfee in Los Angeles at dMcAfee@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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