Film processor and distributor Technicolor Inc. is under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sexual harassment of employees in what the EEOC claims is one of its more flagrant cases of abuse in Los Angeles.

The federal commission's L.A. office filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court Aug. 7 on behalf of four female employees at Technicolor's Camarillo facility who claim their co-workers and supervisors made sexual comments and advances toward them and forced them to look at sexual cartoons and pictures. Two of the four women were later fired a move the claim states was based on their attempts to stop the harassment.

Executives at Technicolor which is based in Camarillo but has a North Hollywood filmmaking office and an Ontario entertainment division declined to comment.

Technicolor processes, packages and distributes motion picture films and videos. It also replicates DVDs and CDs. Technicolor's video division, which is being targeted by the EEOC, produces 800 million videocassettes a year for clients including Walt Disney Co., DreamWorks and New Line Cinema.

"We found very egregious harassment in this case," Anna Park, regional attorney in the L.A. office of the EEOC. "There were very overt things the supervisors engaged in the very people who were supposed to prevent it."

Although specific individuals were not named in the complaint, Park said at least eight or nine people in the video-copying division are being investigated for harassment or failing to do anything about the harassment. The highest-ranking person is in the human resources department of the company, she said.

The commission often leaves out specific names in the lawsuit until it has completed its investigation of the plaintiffs' claims, Park said. The EEOC will begin its discovery process within a month.

The case is the fourth L.A. company to be targeted by the EEOC in the past six months, Park said. The EEOC handles cases regarding discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, age and other abuses outlined in Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.

Unusual case

Most EEOC cases are filed by individuals, and are not class actions, which makes Technicolor's case unusual, Park said. It also involves several Hispanic women, who often are under-represented in discrimination cases, Park said. That's one reason the EEOC decided to take on the matter, which could potentially include several other women, she said.

"A class action, whether filed by the EEOC or through private litigation, is a much more expensive suit," said Jim Kuns, senior consultant at Los Angeles-based Employers Group, which represents 5,000 companies in California. "It's expensive to litigate, and the possibilities of excessive awards and damages are present. If it's from the EEOC, they have considerable resources at their disposal and are a much more formidable opponent. They are an agency of the federal government, so they have a large budget behind them."

Technicolor, which was acquired by Thomson Multimedia early this year, had revenue of $1.6 billion for the year ended Sept. 30, 2000.

According to court documents, the harassment was ongoing since June 1998 and included obscene sexual cartoons, derogatory comments, obscene gestures and physical touching, as well as profane name-calling.

The commission attempted to resolve the issues through conciliation before filing the lawsuit, according to the claim.

The EEOC's claim is not the first lawsuit filed against Technicolor alleging discrimination. Although not sexual in nature, two lawsuits were filed last fall in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by former employees of the company. One, filed by Albert Hernandez, was settled Feb. 23 of this year. The other, filed by Sherry Laing, is still pending.

Laing claims she was laid off after being forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which she passed. Technicolor executives, who laid off her husband less than two years earlier, believed her to be mentally disabled, she claims in the lawsuit.

In another lawsuit filed in July 1997, African-American employee Ray Gover claims he was demoted to an inferior position, verbally and physically attacked by co-workers and subsequently fired in 1996.

Gover's case received attention by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who wrote Technicolor in the summer of 1997 regarding the racial discrimination accusations, the claim says.

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