Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Sued by Former Employee Alleging Age and Disability Discrimination

The suit alleges alleges age and disability discrimination, age harassment and retaliation.

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The 50-year-old former director of communications and social media for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is suing her former employer, alleging she was the victim of disparate treatment due to her age and that she was fired in January for asking to take sick leave.

Marlene Panoyan's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges age and disability discrimination, age harassment and retaliation. The suit filed Monday seeks unspecified damages.

Panoyan, of North Hollywood, held her position since October 2005 and was consistently praised for her work by the chamber's longtime president and CEO, Leron Gubler, who was 67 when he retired last December, the suit states. His replacement was Rana Ghadban, a woman in her 30s who previously worked for the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce, the suit states.

"Upon assuming her new position as CEO of the Hollywood Chamber, Ghadban began making it known in explicit statements among the staff members that she believed that the Hollywood Chamber was old and out-of-date and needed a new, youthful and hip image and culture like the one she had implemented at the Simi Valley Chamber," the suit states.

From the outset, Ghadban was "overtly cool and almost hostile to the older staff members, including plaintiff, who were largely middle-aged people who had been with the Hollywood Chamber for years," according to the suit. "Conversely, Ghadban was obsequious and fawning in her dealings with the youngest members of the staff who were in their early 20s."

Ghadban regularly accused Panoyan of being "negative" and displaying "poor body language," the suit states.

"(Panoyan) became increasingly distressed by these constant harsh criticisms of her body language, which were administered without explanation, but she continued doing her job, albeit with moments of nervousness and emotional upset," according to the complaint.

Ghadban told Panoyan that younger staff members were complaining that she was not being prompt in implementing the new, youthful and hip social media approach that Ghadban had executed at the Simi Valley Chamber, the suit states.

Panoyan replied that she would obey Ghadban's directions, but needed further information because all of the directions given to that point in time were vague, the suit states.

Ghadban disparaged Panoyan during meetings with other employees and the plaintiff left one such session believing she was having a nervous breakdown, the suit states. Panoyan went to her office and Ghadban followed her, the suit states.

Panoyan asked for a day off to see a doctor, and Ghadban replied, "See a doctor on your vacation time. No, I am laying you off. No, actually, you're fired," the suit states.

Ghadban made the remarks "in a rapid staccato, all the time with a smile on her face," according to the suit.

Panoyan was not given a final paycheck and left shaking and physically ill, the suit states. She has been under close psychiatric care since her firing and her doctor has declared her emotionally disabled and unable to work, the suit states.

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