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Gender discrimination in Hollywood sparks federal probe

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In what could be the first step toward a federal class-action lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is beginning a probe into the Hollywood studio system to investigate the existence of systemic discrimination against the hiring of female directors, reports Deadline.

The EEOC was reluctant to take on investigation of gender discrimination on the creative side of Hollywood in 2013, when it told female directors that it could not act on on the matter without "a woman who would directly sue a studio or production company within a 12-month window with smoking-gun evidence." Any director in that "Goldilocks" situation would risk the ruination of her career, regardless of the outcome of the case. Director Marie Giese took the cause to the American Civil Liberties Union, and in May, the organization filed a complaint with the EEOC.

EEOC Seal

The EEOC is a federal agency created to enforce several major pieces of workplace anti-discrimination legislation in the U.S., which, when combined, lay down rules that prohibit employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability and even genetics — as well as wage discrimination based on gender. According to Deadline, "Women currently receive only 16% of the episodic TV directing jobs, and last year directed less than 5% of the major studio releases.... A recent [Writer's Guild of America] report found that women held only 15.1% of the executive producer positions last season, a decline of 18.6% from the previous season."

Producer and showrunner positions are often in charge of hiring directors for television. From that WGA report:

Of the 457 executive producer positions in 2013-14, women occupied 136. As women represent slightly more than half of the U.S. population, the group was underrepresented by a factor of more than 3-to-1 among the writers who ran television shows in 2013-14.

As ACLU director Melissa Goodman told the Hollywood Reporter, "Blatant and extreme gender inequality in this large and important industry is shameful and unacceptable. The time has come for new solutions to this serious civil rights problem."

The EEOC probed discriminatory hiring practices in Hollywood in 1969, but, at the time, the merely four-year-old commission lacked the power to enforce changes based on its findings — which were that women and minorities were being discriminated against in hiring for behind-the-camera jobs.

The Commission plans to begin interviewing dozens of female directors about their "personal stories and the obstacles which you have faced in pursuit of success within your profession" next week.