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Former Employee Sues William Morris Agency

Sharon Washington, a former employee of the Los Angeles office of the William Morris Agency, has sued the talent agency charging the company engaged in blatant discrimination against her during her six years of employment according to the complaint (Sharon Washington versus William Morris Agency, Robert Stein et alii) filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Sharon Washington began working at WMA in March 1996 as an assistant in the motion picture department. Her attorney, Steven Fox of Davis, Fox & Berke, said: "Up until Fall 2000, Sharon was repeatedly praised for her work, especially for calmly handling stressful situations, working extra hours and bringing in new business to the agency."

Moreover, according to Fox, "her November 2000 review stated she had the ability to be an agent, which she had repeatedly expressed interest in becoming."

According to the complaint, in February 2001, Washington asked Richard Rosenberg, executive vice-president of WMA (Personal Appearance/Music Department), about opportunities to advance in the company to achieve an agent position. It is alleged that he dissuaded her from becoming an agent because, in his words, "blacks make better managers than agents." Of the approximately 250 or so agents at the firm, the complaint alleges that approximately four are African-American, and none work in the music department.

Washington was also allegedly told by Robert Stein, co-worldwide head of motion pictures and agent for Arnold Schwarzennegger, that she was "too old" to become an agent. Moreover, on at least one occasion, according to the complaint, Washington was told by an agent that she would not be considered for a WMA job opening because of her gender. This discriminatory conduct violates Government Code Section 12940 et seq.

On Sept. 7, 2001, Washington filed complaints against WMA and Stein with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. On Sept. 20, she received a "right to sue" letter for each from the Department.

A large part of the complaint focuses on Stein, who, it alleges, was involved in a romantic relationship with Washington from mid-1999 until she broke it off in April 2001. Afterwards, according to the complaint, Stein acted inappropriately and continued with unwanted sexual advances. The complaint contends that once Washington ended the relationship with Stein, he told WMA management that Washington would make a bad agent, which goes against her performance reviews. He also refused to interview her for the agent-training program.

The working conditions became intolerable for Washington at WMA, and she was forced to resign. Fox stated: "It's amazing that an agency such as WMA, with its diverse client base, would allow such discriminatory in-house practices."