A former Netflix executive says she was fired because her boss was angry that she was pregnant and planning to take maternity leave.
Tania Zarak, who helped develop international original content for the online streaming service, is suing the company for pregnancy discrimination and retaliation, according to the lawsuit she filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
In her complaint, the 38-year-old filmmaker said she was shunned at work and secretly removed from projects after she told her boss, Francisco Ramos, in early November that she was pregnant.
Pregnancy discrimination is a form of gender discrimination that is illegal under federal law and California state law.
A spokesperson for Netflix told Vox that the company had previously looked into Zarak’s claims and determined that they were unfounded.
“Netflix works hard to ensure that employees with families, or who are starting a family, have the flexibility and support they need,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement to Vox on Thursday.
Zarak was helping produce several Spanish-language series, including a remake of a Mexican telenovela, and a series about a legendary female Mexican American singer. Though not named in the complaint, the latter is likely the highly anticipated Selena series that Netflix announced it was producing in December.
Zarak said she was named as one of the executives managing the Selena series, but that after she announced her pregnancy, Ramos stopped adding her to emails about the show and didn’t include her in any meetings. When she asked him what was going on, she says, he said he didn’t know she was on the show.
She also says Ramos made repeated demeaning comments about her appearance after the pregnancy announcement, such as “you don’t look happy” or “you look frustrated,” which she believed were intended to create an emotionally abusive and negative atmosphere.
After a month of this behavior, Zarak went to human resources and told them what was happening. She complained that Ramos was ignoring her and not giving her enough work because she was pregnant. She asked to change departments, but the manager told her to speak to Ramos about it.
When Zarak met with him later that day, she says, he responded, “I hear you’ve been saying things about me.” She says that during that conversation, Ramos also asked her when her due date was. She told him, and said she planned to take maternity leave, which she says made him “visibly agitated.” He then pressured her to quit, suggesting they could arrange for some sort of payment or insurance for her to leave.
Zarak told him she didn’t want to quit. She again suggested changing departments, but he said that wasn’t possible.
The next day, on December 14, Zarak was called into a meeting with HR. Ramos was there.
“Tania, we’re here because I am letting you go,” Zarak says Ramos told her, before leaving her with the human resources representative in the room. Zarak was given no explanation for her firing, and said, “This is because I am pregnant.” The HR manager did not respond, according to her complaint.
The complaint states that Zarak’s work was always praised by Netflix executives, and her supervisor never gave her negative performance reviews or complained. Zarak has worked at renowned movie production companies, including Argos Comunicación in Mexico City and Esperanto Filmoj, which is owned by director Alfonso Cuarón.
Zarak, who is now seven months pregnant, also says that Netflix uses “deceptive marketing” about its workplace culture to recruit job candidates, since the company gives parents up to one year of paid maternity leave but employees are discouraged from taking it.
Before she accepted the job, Zarak said, the company was aware that she had family commitments. She asked about Netflix’s family policies and child care benefits because she has two toddlers and a husband, and they would all need to move from New York to California for the job.
She said the HR manager told her about special third-party arrangements for child care and pointed her to a link describing Netflix’s progressive culture and paid leave policies.
Zarak’s baby is due in May.