By now, most of you have probably heard about the recent news that a group of top scientists have filed a lawsuit against Disney and its chief scientific adviser, Dr. Stephen Hawking.
They claim that Disney has deliberately suppressed evidence and biased research that could help people understand the world around them.
The lawsuit is being brought in a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by the Science Education Network, which has been leading the charge against Disney for decades.
But while the suit’s legal arguments are the most prominent, it’s a bit of a stretch to call it the largest scientific boycott in history.
Rather, the Science Educational Network is simply an extension of a long-standing effort to make education more accessible to the most marginalized communities.
For many of us, a big part of our identities is our race, our gender, our class, and our sexual orientation.
But for many of the same communities, there’s a sense that we have not had a voice.
And we’ve all seen the media coverage of the #MeToo movement, where sexual assault survivors came forward to tell their stories about abuse and discrimination.
For me, I felt that if I didn’t have a voice, if I couldn’t have this conversation, then there was no hope for a better world for me or my children.
And so when I learned about Dr. Hawking’s lawsuit, I decided to join in on this fight.
The complaint in question lays out a series of claims by the SciEd Network that the Walt Disney Company has been violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits employers from requiring or requiring employees to work a particular job to obtain certain benefits.
The Walt Disney Corporation is an American multinational corporation that owns Disney, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, and has an estimated market capitalization of $16.6 trillion.
And, while the company does not own all of its stock, it is the largest shareholder of its parent company, Disney, which owns most of the stock of other Disney-owned businesses like ABC, ESPN, and Pixar.
The SciEd petition states that Disney’s failure to pay minimum wage to workers is an unlawful employment practice, and that it is discriminatory to treat its employees differently based on their race, sex, age, national origin, religion, disability, or gender identity.
To put it simply, if you are a white male, a white woman, or an Asian-American male, you are being paid less than a worker of color or gender non-conforming, according to the petition.
If you are transgender, you may be paid less.
In fact, the petition states, “a white male is paid approximately $4,200 per hour, while a transgender person is paid $2,200.”
In the past year, the SciE petition has garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
So why is this a huge deal?
The SciE network’s petition was inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a grassroots movement that gained momentum after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in New York City.
After the #Browns and #Garner protests, organizers started circulating petitions asking for greater access to public spaces and higher wages.
After a series (and unsuccessful) efforts to reach the Obama administration, activists are now focusing on Disney.
As the #DisneyStarWars hashtag has become a rallying cry for many across the globe, Disney has taken a proactive stance in making sure the world knows about the alleged discriminatory practices.
The company even created a “Black Star Wars” campaign, where people can submit videos of themselves and their friends wearing “Star Wars” clothing to be featured in the movie.
While the Disney response has been less than impressive, there have been other attempts to address racial inequities in the workplace, like the Black Lives Matter movement.
But there’s one thing that Disney isn’t doing: actively engaging with its own employees to improve their lives.
In December, Disney announced that it would hire more than a hundred full-time employees at its headquarters in Florida, which is the same location as its film studio.
The new hires are part of a strategy that CEO Bob Iger called a “strategic shift” to better understand the diversity of its workforce.
Iger said that Disney had been “a leader in creating and supporting diverse, high-quality jobs,” and that its hiring of more employees would “increase our ability to meet the challenges facing our company.”
It seems as if the SciED petition is just another example of a company trying to address a pressing social problem that has nothing to do with the quality of its products or service.
I don’t think the SciEducation Network will be able to accomplish much by suing Disney.
But the SciEduc petition is an important first step.
It’s an effort that will hopefully spark a discussion about why it’s important to pay more attention to the needs of the marginalized communities that are most impacted by discrimination.
That discussion will also help us to improve our everyday lives.