Marc Sadeghi had just returned from a work trip to New Zealand when he was asked to meet with someone from Human Resources.
Sadeghi was settling into his job as global head of visual effects for Amazon Studios, based at the streamer’s Culver City office. He had quickly discovered that he had less staff support than he expected, and he was deeply frustrated by Amazon’s “coach only” policy for company travel.
Amazon is famously frugal, and generally requires employees to fly coach or pay for their own seat upgrades. This stands in marked contrast to the free-spending norm for senior executives in Hollywood, and for Sadeghi it was especially vexing. He had back problems — scoliosis and sciatica — and needed more room to stretch out. He had brought it up several times, to no avail.
Now he was being asked to meet with an HR person from Seattle to go over some “allegations.” He was also asked to turn over his laptop and his badge.
On Dec. 3, 2019, he sat down with Ivre Kladnick, who quickly launched into a series of questions, according to a lawsuit Sadeghi filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“Have you ever asked your assistant to run personal errands?” “Have you ever sent your assistant a picture of a cartoon penis?” “Have you ever instructed your assistant to break policy?”
Thinking fast, Sadeghi deduced that his assistant had turned on him. He already had reason to doubt the assistant’s loyalty. The day before Thanksgiving break, he had caught his assistant secretly recording him, according to the suit. He didn’t know how long this had been going on, but suspected there could be many recordings.
He felt ambushed, and tried to answer the charges as best he could. Much of it had to do with allegations that he had misused company funds. In particular, Sadeghi had instructed the assistant to have the company pay for an upgrade to “premium economy” for the 14-hour flight to New Zealand.
Sadeghi had informed his supervisors that he could suffer severe pain if forced to sit in coach, especially on flights longer than five hours. Ken Lipman, the studio’s head of drama production, was not unsympathetic. He suggested that Sadeghi should try to get a medical clearance from Amazon. But Sadeghi knew that could take months, and he was needed in New Zealand right away.
Tim Clawson, Sadeghi’s manager, was less helpful, according to the suit. When Sadeghi told him that a 14-hour flight could leave him in such pain that it would take two months to recover, Clawson said that was a “bummer.”
Through the grapevine, Sadeghi heard he could get a free upgrade on Air New Zealand. He asked the assistant to get him on the list. But days prior to the flight, he discovered that the assistant had failed to do so. According to the suit, the assistant told him that Clawson had previously used the company credit card to pay for an upgrade at the gate, and handled it internally afterwards. So he told his assistant to do likewise, figuring he would sort it out upon his return.
There were other allegations as well, including that Sadeghi had used off-color language. In his defense, Sadeghi argued that Amazon fostered an environment where such language was tolerated. In fact, according to his suit, he heard a management-level executive refer to someone a “squirrelly c–t.” Another executive also made liberal use of the c-word, he alleges.
Sadeghi flatly denied the charges of misuse of company funds, saying he could provide documentation for client dinners and the like. But according to Sadeghi, Kladnick was not interested. He alleges that she conducted a “results oriented” investigation, was biased against him, and did not give him a fair opportunity to defend himself.
He asked to see the charges in writing, but what he was given was little more than “chicken scratch,” according to the suit. He also alleges that Kladnick did not review text messages or talk to his witnesses.
Sadeghi also charged that it was illegal for his assistant to record him, and he asked Kladnick to obtain the recordings. But nothing came of that, he alleges, and the assistant was never disciplined.
Instead, Sadeghi was informed on Dec. 10, 2019, that a full investigation had uncovered a pattern of “multiple policy infractions.” He was terminated immediately.
Sadeghi is now suing the company for disability discrimination, failing to provide a reasonable accommodation, and wrongful termination.
Amazon Studios did not respond to a request for comment.