If you’re looking for quick and factual Hollywood gossip, the first place you go to is TMZ. For over 15 years, TMZ has been a nightmare for celebrities and a dream for those who want to keep up with their lives. Aside from breaking stories a little too quickly, TMZ has seemingly kept up with their journalistic ethics - only posting factual information and doing it without a spin. More than TMZs’ story ethics are in question as they continue through the Gender Discrimination lawsuit that was filed against them last month. Named in the suit are TMZ founder Harvey Levin, TooFab Managing Editor Shyam Dodge, and TooFab Senior Producer Ross McDonagh.
Experienced writer, Bernadette Zilio, who worked for TMZ, TooFab, and EHM Productions for 5 years claims that she was retaliated against and later fired following her complaint to HR about the culture of toxicity and sexism within her team. Zilio stated that she went to Warner Bros. HR representative in the Spring of 2019 to address concerns about sexism, belittlement, and preferential treatment. Zilio felt that there was a vast difference between how the men and women on her team were treated. Whenever she spoke up, specifically about articles that McDonagh wrote that were considered sexist and offensive, she was dismissed. Zilio was not alone in her concerns, as her female coworkers have also described the workspace as a “boys club” “100% a bro fest” and “ a freaking frat house”. Zilio spoke to Buzzfeed about her first time filing a complaint to HR stating that “Nothing is ever concrete, nothing is ever written down. I never get emails following up with anything... they tell you we have a no-retaliation policy. The investigation concludes, nothing changes, and that’s when these small forms of retaliation I feel happened.” Two weeks after her initial complaint, HR stated that there was no evidence of gender bias in their investigation; which is also when Zilio began to feel retaliated against.
Both TMZ General Manager, Stuart Alpert and creator Harvey Levin called Zilio in for private meetings following the investigation. Alpert and Levin played right into her concerns and affirmed to Zilio that Dodge is her boss and whatever he says goes. Without being given a chance to speak Zilio left both conversations in tears.
In January 2020 Zilio got in contact with another Warner Bros HR representative because she didn’t feel as though anything had been done to rectify the sexist environment that she complained about a few months prior. After, she got in touch with Warner Bros Employee Relations representative in February and spoke on how she felt the male and female employees were treated differently and expressed how afraid she was of retaliation. That same month Zilio was fired. The unsigned separation agreement was dated Feb. 26th,2020, the day after her final HR meeting regarding her toxic and sexist work culture allegation. TMZ and TooFab released a statement claiming that the companies parted ways with Zilio due to “incidents of plagiarism and inaccurate reporting.”
Zilio knows that this case is larger than just her, it speaks to the culture that exists in male dominated workspaces. There are people who need to be held accountable across all companies but especially Warner Bros. Everyone deserves to feel respected and safe when they go to work.