An L.A. judge is blocking Disney from putting a quick end to a lawsuit alleging harassment during production on Criminal Minds, adding that it would create an "absurd loophole." California's Department of Fair Employment & Housing filed the suit on behalf of everyone who worked on the show throughout the course of its 15-season run. In the latest update, The Hollywood Reporter reports L.A. County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Buckley denied Disney's demurrer to the complaint, which called the allegations "hopelessly vague" and argued that DFEH couldn't show enough similarities among the recorded situations of harassment to require a group action.
"[T[his Court is mandated to respect the DFEH director's judgment and treat this action as a group civil law enforcement action," Buckley said in his ruling. "The only limitation the Court sees that may be fairly imposed on the director's sole discretion is the requirement that the action must center around 'an unlawful practice [that] raises questions of law or fact which are common to such a group or class.'" He adopted the statement during his ruling.
Buckley suggests that if Disney had ample evidence, the powerhouse entertainment company could argue for a motion to decertify the class. Disney's attorney Jennifer Baldocchi of Paul Hastings claimed that the class definition is too broad and everyone involved in the group can't all be of the same category because some are "people who were willingly participating in locker room behavior" as opposed to some who "weren't offended by a butt slap." Baldocchi asserted that the conduct had to be unwelcomed and without a doubt regarded as harassing–– subjectively as well as objectively. She also requested that the DFEH restrict the group to those who reported to St. Johns. DFEH pushed back on Disney's request, telling the judge that they wouldn't limit the group to those who Disney looked into during its "faulty investigation." Attorney Sue Noh on behalf of the agency argued that the company had a history of "failure to take harassment seriously."
Buckley agreed on the side of DFEH. "While broad, the sheer breadth of this action alone cannot defeat it," the judge wrote in the decision. "If that were so, then it would create the absurd loophole that St. Johns and other Defendants could escape accountability to the DFEH simply because St. Johns violated so pervasively by potentially victimizing thousands of individuals over the course of a decade."
"They're entitled to do the broadest possible grouping that they want," Buckley said. "An individual in a position of power and in contact with lots and lots of people over 14 years leads to a case that's going to require a lot of discovery."