On October 27, 2016, Blythe Asher, former Senior Vice President of Talent Development and Casting at E! Entertainment Television, Inc. (E!) and NBC Universal (NBC), brought a wrongful termination suit against her former employer, alleging that E! had discriminated against her because of her age and disability. Asher began working at E! in 2009, where she oversaw casting, talent development, and talent management for the E! network, eventually working her way up to Senior Vice President in July 2013. Although Asher was never in front of the camera herself, her position demanded substantial personal interaction with numerous celebrities, directors, producers, and industry executives.
In summer 2014, Asher was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. Asher continued to conduct business and oversee her department via telephone and e-mail throughout her cancer treatment, even on the morning of her surgery and from her hospital bed during her recovery.
In December 2015, Asher suffered complications in her cancer treatment and was diagnosed with lymphedema, which caused substantial swelling in her arm. Although the illness had taken a toll on her health and appearance, Asher continued to perform her job duties—including making public appearances, attending executive meetings, and meeting with celebrities—despite her pain and discomfort.
After her battle with cancer and lymphedema, Asher received a significantly lower performance evaluation in her annual review than any she had received since the beginning of her employment. Though Asher’s performance reviews prior to her cancer diagnosis had been exceptional, E! now highlighted the importance of Asher’s physical appearance and stated that Asher had failed to maintain her appearance to meet E!’s standards, which Asher took to be a thinly veiled reference to her age and cancer treatment. In addition, just before Asher received the low performance rating, an E! executive suggested to her that she wear a poncho to cover up her arm and the lymphedema symptoms. Asher was shocked, offended, and embarrassed by the insensitive comment.
While Asher was noticeably suffering from the effects of cancer, E!’s president, Suzanne Kolb, proposed to her that she take leave. Worried that doing so would threaten both her productions and her employment with E!, Asher declined Kolb’s proposal and, rather than taking time off, continued to fulfill all of her job responsibilities. On February 9, 2016, however, Asher received notice from E! Entertainment’s parent company, NBC Universal Media, that she had been terminated, allegedly due to corporate restructuring.
In October, Asher filed suit against E!, NBC, and Comcast in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract, and wrongful termination. In addition to the disability discrimination claims, Asher, who is over 40 years of age, also contends that E! dismissed older employees more often than younger employees, hired fewer employees over the age of 40, and gave superior jobs and benefits to younger employees. After Asher’s termination, E! replaced her with a less experienced individual, who was both younger and non-disabled.
If your employer has discriminated against you based on your age or disability, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.