Harvey Levin created the tabloid news site under the Telepictures Productions umbrella, which is owned by Warner Bros, in 2005 along with Jim Paratore, who died in 2012. TMZ’s brand has since expanded beyond its website with TMZ on TV, TMZ Live, TMZ Sportsand the TMZ Celebrity Tour.
Former employees said Levin and other executive producers screamed and cursed at them on a regular basis. Former employees also said Levin called people “retarded” and “morons,” and made comments like “Talking to you guys is like talking to a room full of special ed kids” and “My dog takes better direction than you.”
One former employee said they felt physically threatened by executives at TMZ, and that they called them a “fucking retard,” “fucking piece of shit,” and “fucking dummy.”
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“You don’t get an apology or anything like that,” one former employee said. “They just pretend it never happened until the next thing that pisses them off happens, and then you get another angry outburst from them.”
One former employee, Ryan Naumann, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014 after Levin allegedly outed him as being gay to the rest of his colleagues, according to records obtained by BuzzFeed News. Another former Warner Bros. employee who worked closely with TMZ said she filed an HR complaint against executive producer alleging gender discrimination. The employee said she was frustrated when the company later told her the investigation had found no merit to her allegations.
Six other former employees also said they made HR complaints with Warner Bros. about their experiences at TMZ. Others said they avoided making complaints because they feared retaliation.
Warner Bros. and Levin did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment, but a second current employee told BuzzFeed News “the word retard has never and would be used within TMZ by anybody in authority,” and that “it’s not true that our hiring or firing practices are based on race and gender.”
“TMZ goes to great lengths to ensure that it has diverse hiring practices and brings people in all backgrounds,” the employee said.
But complaints against managers date back years. In August, former employee Bernie Zilio filed a complaint with the EEOC against TMZ, Warner Bros. Entertainment, and EHM Productions alleging gender discrimination and retaliation.
In 2014, another former employee, Taryn Hillin, also filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., EHM Productions, TMZ Productions, and executive producer Evan Rosenblum alleging gender discrimination and wrongful termination.
Hillin called TMZ a “boys club” that fosters a hostile work environment for women, and said Rosenblum “routinely yelled at and humiliated” her, making comments like “don’t be a girl.” According to court documents, the lawsuit went into private arbitration and was later dropped after mediation.
“It is racist, it is incredibly misogynistic, and there’s no change there,” the current TMZ employee said. “But that’s what you’re hoping for, that changes come from somewhere higher.”
Former employees said they’re unhappy with the lack of change at TMZ given all the formal complaints and lawsuits.
“It’s one thing to work for a salacious brand but one that actually respects its female employees, but this is not the case. This is a case of men in power and in control who like to represent women a certain way and who just don’t have respect for female colleagues,” a former Warner Bros. employee said. “When is that going to change? When are they going to shift their mindset for how they treat women who work for the brand?”
Former employees say the culture starts with Levin and is enabled by other men in charge of the newsroom and TMZ’s TV show: Stuart Alpert, executive producer and general manager; head of legal affairs Jason Beckerman; Rosenblum, executive producer at TMZ and TMZ Sports; and co-executive producer Charles Latibeaudiere.
Alpert, Beckerman, Rosenblum, and Latibeaudiere did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Veronica Barriga told BuzzFeed News she worked as a guide on the TMZ Celebrity Tour starting in 2018 and appeared on TMZ on TV as a contributor over the course of her employment until 2020. But when she was asked to take on a full-time role in the TMZ newsroom, she said she was told she didn’t have enough experience.