A former employee of Disney Streaming Services fired earlier this year is suing the company, alleging that he was the target of discrimination and harassment over his new parental status — and that Disney employees hacked into his home computer and phone to learn private information about him.
Steven van Soeren worked as a product designer at BAMTech and Disney Streaming Services from August 2016 until he was fired on May 6, 2019, per the complaint.
According to van Soeren’s lawsuit, filed Nov. 2 in federal district court in New York City, Disney terminated him without cause and did not provide severance pay. The former employee is seeking unspecific monetary damages against Disney Streaming Services, including damages for emotional distress and other punitive damages.
Disney representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Disney in 2017 acquired majority control of Major League Baseball’s BAMTech, paying a total of $2.6 billion for the organization that now handles the Mouse House’s direct-to-consumer operational functions including for Disney Plus and ESPN Plus.
Van Soeren claimed that while he worked for Disney Streaming Services, he was subject to “a work environment displaying a pattern and practice of discrimination and evidence of discriminatory animus,” specifically because of his spouse’s pregnancy.
Around June 2018, according to the lawsuit, “numerous” company personnel “discussed and referenced matters that Plaintiff had only discussed at home with his spouse, and/or viewed through his Google Chrome internet browser,” leading van Soeren to conclude that Disney employees had hacked into his home PC. For example, according to the complaint, van Soergen had not told anyone at DSS that he was expecting a child but claimed that his boss, senior director of UX and design Brian McConnell, in an unrelated conversation, “blurted out to Plaintiff, ‘maybe you shouldn’t have a kid.’”
Van Soeren cited other alleged examples of DSS co-workers hacking into his personal devices. For example, according to the lawsuit, he was using his phone to research reported presence of carcinogens in food at Subway before getting lunch; shortly afterward, Connor Paglia (who previously was a senior product designer at Disney Streaming Services), told van Soeren that “if you’re worried about carcinogens then you shouldn’t eat at Subway,” per the complaint.
In addition to the alleged spying, McConnell and other DSS employees “continued to harass, taunt and intimidate Plaintiff throughout his spouse’s pregnancy and the birth of his child.” McConnell also allegedly verbally berated van Soeren, with comments that included saying “fuck you, Steve,” calling him the “tallest midget” and saying that “everything he said was stupid,” per the lawsuit.
“As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ unlawful conduct as alleged herein above, Plaintiff has suffered severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress and anxiety, and economic harm, all in amount exceeding the jurisdictional minimum of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, according to proof at trial,” van Soeren’s lawsuit stated.
Van Soeren said he reported the alleged discriminatory actions with Disney’s HR department, but the company did not take any actions against the employees he alleged were subjecting him to harassment and discrimination. According to the lawsuit, McConnell illegally threatened to fire van Soeren after he filed the HR complaint.
According to the lawsuit, van Soeren “consistently received positive, raving, reviews relating to his performance” and never received a written or verbal warning about his work.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Van Soeren is represented by law firm Caitlin Robin & Associates. The case has been assigned docket no. 1:19-cv-10196.
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