Disaffected performer wins compensation in lawsuit against the Magic Kingdom


"It was my dream since I was a child, to hold such an irreplaceable and important job. Even though I was bullied, I had no choice but to put up with it. The court's decision, to improve the work environment, is more valuable to me than anything else."

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, referred to in Shukan Bunshun (April 14) only as "Ms A" (age 41), was referring to her case against Tokyo Disneyland, where she had been working as a character performer. The woman alleged that the management had subjected her to "power harassment," that led to a physical breakdown. On March 29, the Chiba District Court ruled in her favor and awarded her 880,000 yen in damages.

In a post on its corporate website, Oriental Land Corporation, operator of TDL, denied the charges of pawahara and apologized to visitors to the theme park, which it thanked for their continued support.

"The company made no statement about any intention to improve the working environment, nor did it offer apologies to the plaintiff," a reporter who covered the hearing told the magazine. "So it's natural it was criticized for adhering to the mindset that 'an apology is an admission of guilt.'"

Ms A's mobile phone, on the other hand, was full of emails of encouragement from co-workers voicing support for her efforts.

From her primary school years, Ms A had aspired to be a character performer. From age 18, she had appeared in multiple auditions for the job, and her aspirations were finally realized at age 24.

The work was by no means easy: During summer performances she squeezed into a costume where the interior temperature rose to as high as 50 degrees Celsius.

During a performance in January 2013, an overenthusiastic handshake from a male co-worker injured her fingers; the company doctor diagnosed it as a sprain. When she applied for worker's compensation, her supervisor told her to grin and bear it.

Afterwards Ms A was the recipient of frequent mistreatment from her supervisor, who complained that she was not showing sufficient enthusiasm, along with insulting demands to "lose some weight," or "your costume is too tight on you, it looks awful."

Once when she attempted to talk things over with the supervisor, he allegedly remarked, "Oh so you're sick then? Well you might as well drop dead." Another time he reportedly told her, "Now that you're an old bag over 30; you should quit."

Behind the curtain at the end of one show she was criticized by a leader over her posture, and began sobbing, upon which she was told "You should apologize for crying!" and ordered to drop to a kneeling position and bow in apology.

Ms B (age 32), another female employee, related how she was forced to march in parades while wearing character costumes weighing between 10 to 30 kilograms. After suffering neurological and circulatory damage, she was recognized as eligible for worker's compensation by the local Funabashi office. Disney management, however, was unsympathetic; her case is currently ongoing.

"The court's ruling in favor of Ms A, even in cases where power harassment was not specifically recognized, requires the defendant to modify the work environment so that the worker is not ostracized," says attorney Ryo Sasaki, a specialist in labor problems. "The court's judgement in this case was correct in terms of upholding the worker's rights."

When approached by Shukan Bunshun, Oriental Land declined to comment on the case but insisted that it will "continue to create a work environment where employees can work with peace of mind."

Ms A. was given the last word on the matter.

"It's not magic that enables visitors to the park to view their dreams, but through the hard work of the employees," she said, adding: "That's why we want our employer to recognize this obvious reality and take good care of the workers.

"I took my case to court not to ruin people's dreams, but to safeguard them. I want as many people as possible to be awakened from this kind of bad dream."

© Japan Today

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Chiba District Court ruled in her favor and awarded her 880,000 yen in damages.

In today's money, isn't that just a little over $7 thousand USD? No fees and costs? No offense intended, but . . . Isn't this a little low for this type of a case, considering she (supposedly proved to the court's satisfaction?) her proximate "neurological and circulatory damage"? Or is she or the defendant perfecting an appeal, as we speak?

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

It used to be that certain litigation costs, including court fees, daily allowances, lodging and travel expense costs, were recoverable under Rule 109, Article 61 Code of Civil Procedure. And perhaps attorney’s fees, as long as they were alleged as part of is damages, in contract or in tort cases. Sorry, I have not kept up. Is there a new rule?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Such a low financial judgement will not deter from the systemic culture of harassment and bullying in the workplace. They need to hit these companies hard, and companies need to discipline offending managers and co-workers for such behavior.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

@ zichi: Possible questions to ask yourself and your counsel: Contingency fee agreement? Were you a prevailing party? Was there a contractual clause or other mutually-agreed upon prohibition that forbade such an award? Did you attorney allege and insist on recovery in any/all pleadings in the event of a favorable outcome? Was there agreement that neither party would seek fees and costs, thus limiting future liability if either side lost?

Great discussion to have during initial consultations. And before signing a retainer.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

@ zichi: Glad to hear, yet sorry to hear, at the same time.

You deserve to feel proud, though, considering the complexity Japanese law; and the fact that you wrote you own pleadings.

Ever consider a career change?

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Not surprising at all if you know the general working environment here. I've seen several Japanese co-workers have breakdowns from the continual bullying and harassment at the job and I was about to intervene on my spouse's behalf once when things got out of hand a few years ago. Her younger and vastly more inexperienced male "superior" had already forced some of the older ladies out and got some demoted so he could promote his own people and she was coming home crying a lot. I really thought about how much jail time I would get for going in there, asking for him directly, and being the biggest pain in the rear customer he'd ever dealt with and more trouble than he'd ever had in more ways than one because I knew some of the others and also knew no one stood up for any of them verbally or physically. The wife did not want that but I gave her continued verbal and mental support and told her that she had come too far all these years to let them force you out. Things have leveled off these days but it still stinks that no one will even remotely try to fix these types of situations. All they do is throw empty sound bites at it and continue on as usual.

When approached by Shukan Bunshun, Oriental Land declined to comment on the case but insisted that it will "continue to create a work environment where employees can work with peace of mind."

Nice try, but you have to start before you can continue.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

As a brand Disney has too much power and cache to feel the need to change, so it would be unrealistic to expect much to come of this in terms of the working conditions they enforce.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Yes I agree Legrande. The problem is with brands like Disney is that they consider their employees lucky to work for the brand, not that the brand is lucky to have hard working, loyal employees.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

When I was young I enlisted in the Army. I had wanted to be a paratrooper since I was a kid. In the Army I endured heat which caused me to faint on occasion, and I endured cold which made my toes turn blue, and made my hands unable to operate a rifle. The verbal abuse I was endured was as bad as you can imagine, and the pay, even adjusting for inflation, was significantly lower than what Disney performers earn today. Why did I put up with it? I could have quit at any time. But I actually liked what I was doing, enduring and overcoming the frequent hell of military training and operations made me feel good about myself, my ability to endure, and to push myself (or be pushed) far beyond the limits I thought myself capable.

There are people in Japan nutty enough as I was, and who would work for almost nothing if they could be a performer at Disney. And that is why conditions for these people are what they are. They are not kidnapped, pressed into a job, and chained to the oars, they can leave any time they like. If enough people quit, Disney would get the message, but there are people on waiting lists which are years long for every performers position at the Disney resorts, the woman in the story had to wait 6 years for an opening. So long as this is the case, things will not improve

3 ( +4 / -1 )

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