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ESPN Race Discrimination Suit Needed More Details, Judge Says

Nov. 25, 2019, 6:08 PM

A former ESPN Inc. associate producer didn’t provide enough facts about the alleged discrimination she says she faced as a Latina before she was fired, but will have a chance to provide more details, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled.

Rachael Pineda’s claims against ESPN and parent companies The Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Communications Inc. didn’t properly state a claim that would allow it to proceed, according to a Nov. 22 decision by Judge Michael Shea, granting a motion to dismiss. Pineda won’t be able to re-argue her claims against the parent companies.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut previously reviewed Pineda’s complaint and dismissed her claims for religious bias, disability bias, and retaliation for taking family and medical leave, among other claims. It allowed her to continue to argue the race discrimination claims.

Pineda worked for ESPN from 2003 to 2008, and was rehired in 2011 as a producer. She was fired in 2016, and alleged the company consistently didn’t accept her pitches about the Hispanic community, and managers and colleagues made remarks about her ethnicity. She said she faced a “fraternal secret society cult-like culture at ESPN.”

She filed the lawsuit under Section 1981 of the 1866 Civil Rights Act, which requires proof of intentional race discrimination. She failed to allege specific circumstances that gave rise to a plausible inference of racially discriminatory intent, Shea said. He said the allegations against The Walt Disney Company and Hearst were threadbare.

Shea said Pineda didn’t plead enough facts to make “a plausible claim that her Hispanic ethnicity was a motivating factor in her termination.”

“Nonetheless, it’s a close call,” Shea wrote, adding that Pineda would be able to plead more facts about the content of the remarks made against her and their connection to her firing “to nudge the claim across the plausibility line.”

Michelle Holmes of the Law Office of Michelle Holmes, Pineda’s attorney, said she filed a request for reconsideration regarding the court’s ruling against Walt Disney, and said Pineda should be allowed to amend her complaint targeting the parent company, as well. She will also amend her complaint against ESPN.

Paul Hastings attorneys Raymond Bertrand and James DeHaan represent ESPN, Walt Disney, and Hearst Communications. The attorneys declined to comment, and the companies didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment..

The case is Pineda v. ESPN, Inc., D. Conn., No. 3:18-cv-325 (MPS), Order 11/22/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com