Gay man sues Comcast

Klayton Fennell, a Comcast Corp. executive, recently filed suit against the media giant, claiming a hostile work environment caused him to be passed over for promotions, subjected to antigay slurs, denied equal pay and pressured to leave the Philadelphia headquarters.

His 45-page federal lawsuit was filed Oct. 14 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 

Fennell, who couldn’t be reached for comment, holds the title of senior vice president of government affairs and principal for LGBTQ External Affairs for Comcast. His job requires him to represent Comcast’s diversity efforts in a positive manner, according to the lawsuit.

But throughout his career, Fennell claims he received unequal pay and benefits due to antigay bias and gender stereotyping. One example of stereotyping involved a high-ranking Comcast official comparing Fennell’s appearance to that of figure skater Johnny Weir, even though the two bear no resemblance, according to the lawsuit.

Fennel has complained about the alleged mistreatment on multiple occasions, to no avail. Instead, he was pressured to act more masculine, rather than “flamboyant,” according to the lawsuit.

“In contrast to how [Comcast] treats [Fennell], [Comcast] holds [Fennell] out to the public, including the LGBT and other communities, as an example of their non-discriminatory or inclusive environment in an effort to bolster their public image and further their business as a media company,” the lawsuit states.

Comcast issued the following statement, denying Fennell’s allegations.

“At no time during Klay Fennell’s long career at Comcast has he been discriminated against or been the subject of wrongful treatment. Comcast has a longstanding commitment to the LGBTQ community and has been widely recognized for its inclusive culture. Klay has worked at Comcast for more than 18 years, and we promoted him to the job of Senior Vice President more than four years ago, one of our highest roles in our Cable division. We also have supported him for many years and provided a platform for him to have a positive influence on LGBTQ initiatives both inside the company and in the communities we serve. We will vigorously defend ourselves against these claims in court.”

Fennell began working for Comcast in Philadelphia in 2001, but subsequently transferred to Florida, where he was called “faggot” by a fellow employee and experienced other mistreatment, according to the lawsuit.

In 2011, Fennell returned to Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters, where he was allegedly subjected to more antigay bias and mistreatment. In 2013, he was encouraged to transfer to San Francisco where his sexual orientation would be more acceptable, according to the lawsuit.

“When [Fennell] complained that taking another demotion would be a backwards step in his career trajectory within the organization, he was told it would get him ‘out of the dysfunctional corporate culture’ of headquarters,” according to the lawsuit.

In March 2015, after multiple requests over a period of years, Fennell’s job title was adjusted to senior vice president, without any changes to his job duties, according to the lawsuit. “[Comcast] refused to revise his base pay, bonus or equity award to reflect his SVP status, resulting in [Fennell’s] ongoing pay disparity [compared] to his heterosexual, traditional stereotype-conforming male peers,” according to the lawsuit.

When Fennel asked to be paid commensurate with his heterosexual, gender-conforming senior vice president peers, a human relations manager told him that Comcast’s senior leaders viewed him as “high pitched,” which wasn’t conducive to a pay raise, according to the lawsuit.

In September 2019, Fennell was subjected to increased criticism regarding his management style and subsequently took a medical leave of absence, according to the lawsuit.

Ironically, Fennell told PGN in 2014 that he was proud of the company’s consistent 100 percent “Best Place to Work” rating from the Human Rights Campaign.

In 2015, Fennell  was recognized by the Philadelphia Business Journal as a “Top LGBT Leader in Business.” However, Fennell alleges that Comcast didn’t widely promote the honor, according to the lawsuit.

In 2018, Fennell filed an antibias complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, but alleges that he was retaliated against for doing so by being excluded from key employee meetings, given an increased workload, and pressured to transfer out of the Philadelphia headquarters, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson, seeks an unspecified amount in damages along with reasonable attorney’s fees. A jury trial has been requested.