Report: TMZ Workplace Allegedly Abusive and Sexist

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 9, 2020

Harvey Levin
Harvey Levin  (Source:Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

The brash and aggressive style of TMZ apparently carries over into the workplace, where current and former employees have alleged regular occurences of verbal abuse, misogyny, racism, and more, according to a new Buzzfeed report.

After Bernadette Zilio, former TMZ employee, filed a lawsuit alleging she was fired for complaining to Human Resources "about a culture of toxicity and sexism," Buzzfeed spoke with one current and 23 former employees, all of whom appear to confirm the problematic working environment.

Characterizing TMZ's culture as "unchecked abuse of power," a place where women occupy no senior roles, and people of color are hired out of obligation, the current employee tells Buzzfeed:

"If you're talking about the rights of Black people, if you're talking about misogyny, if you're talking about equality amongst everyone, it's never reflected in the workplace. We're reporting on all of that stuff, but we're not doing it ourselves."

A group of former employees describe an environment riddled with sexism; berating, demeaning, and screaming obscenities at employees as acts of intimidation; and even threats of physical violence. Some of these instances are attributed specifically to Harvey Levin, who created the tabloid site with Jim Paratore (who passed away in 2012).

One former employee filed a complaint with Human Resources, which found "no merit" to her allegations, while others said the fear of retaliation hindered them from filing complaints. The current employee sums up TMZ as a "boys' club," while a former employee, Veronica Barriga, explains being denied an associate producer position:

"I was told I did not have the experience to be an associate producer, so I called them out and I said, 'You just hired a male associate producer who had significantly less experience than I do who's straight out of school, how do you explain that?' And they chalked it up to nepotism...

"What we had to say was never valued and the men were always leading the conversation, even if it was about women's reproductive rights. Being in that room, I've never felt so small. I've never felt like my voice didn't matter. I just felt like if you wanted to have success as a woman at that company, you had to work three times as hard as your male colleagues."

Among the other numerous grievances that have come to light, former male TMZ employees also reported to Buzzfeed hearing senior-level executives openly and explicitly objectifying women in the office.

Buzzfeed notes that both TMZ and the beleaguered "Ellen DeGeneres Show" — having recently been investigated due to allegations of workplace toxicity — "fall under the management and purview of Telepictures and Warner Bros.," and that behind the scenes, according to a former employee "there doesn't seem to be HR oversight over what happens... HR is just not very good at policing and regulating some of these shows. And the common thread is Warner Bros."

Read the Buzzfeed report here.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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