After working at NBCUniversal for a decade, 59-year-old television executive Mark “Scott” Vila has gone public with an age discrimination complaint against the entertainment behemoth, detailing his claims exclusively to The Daily Beast.
Vila, who oversaw programming development for NBCUniversal properties including Syfy, USA Network, and streaming service Peacock, was among nearly a dozen employees laid off this February. The cuts were “not performance-related,” he recalled being told, but were alleged cost-cutting measures. However, according to Vila, upon reviewing who got the ax and who did not, the layoffs may have been discriminatory.
“I thought this was just a terrible thing that happened to me and then I started to look at who they laid off and who they kept, and it was really clear that it was ageist and… it was clear the design was to lay off older people and make the group younger,” he told The Daily Beast, citing how staffers over 50 comprised just 6 percent of scripted entertainment content staffers but nearly one-third of the employees let go by NBCUniversal.
No one over 50 remains among the employees in his department, he said. At first he thought it was a coincidence: Older staffers may have higher salaries, he rationalized. However, Vila said, “you can’t lay off all of the protected group at the same time, which is what they did.” He added: “I went from sad to more like that’s really not fair, that's discriminatory.”
NBCUniversal did not respond to a request for comment.
Further bolstering Vila’s belief that the layoffs were ageist is the fact that he was elevated by the company months before receiving his pink slip. “I was promoted last year in the middle of my contract, which almost never happens,” he said, “and as part of that negotiation they made the choice to extend my contract another additional year. I had launched Resident Alien a week before, which was the highest-rated show on the Syfy network in half a decade. And then I was laid off.”
Two weeks after being informed of his termination, Vila sent an email to NBCUniversal’s human-resources department. The letter, which was obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast, detailed his ageism concerns and invoked the company’s own code of conduct allegedly imploring employees to “do the right thing.” An HR official responded the next day stating they would look into his concerns and report back.
“The letter did no good,” he said. And so Vila hired high-profile attorney Lisa Bloom to gear up for a legal battle against the mass-media conglomerate. Due to a non-disclosure agreement Vila signed at the start of his employment, he is unable to file a public lawsuit and will instead have to privately arbitrate his complaint. The former executive seeks undisclosed amounts of compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys fees.
“I am proud to represent Scott Vila as he stands up against age discrimination at NBC/Comcast. Older workers bring experience, skill, and intelligence to their work and should be judged on their merits,” Bloom told The Daily Beast. “For too long the TV industry has prized youth over experience. It’s not only wrong, it’s illegal, and we will fight until we get justice for Scott.”
In recent years, NBCUniversal has faced several age discrimination lawsuits, including a high-profile case in which veteran reporter (and CIA whistleblower) Frank Snepp, then 69 years old, claimed NBC’s LA affiliate KNBC-TV fired him because of his age. The lawsuit was settled on undisclosed terms.
Ultimately, Vila lamented, age discrimination may be a regular feature of the entertainment business. “I think in Hollywood it’s one of those things where it’s just kind of accepted that this happens and there is ageism,” he said. “It’s a bit of an accepted practice because I think people feel like there's nothing they can do anything about. Many of the people in my same sort of situation are even more scared of not getting a job than I am, so they’re afraid to come forward.”
The veteran TV executive admitted he, too, fears he may be blacklisted from working in the industry after going public with his allegations.
“Speaking out is a risk. Truthfully, it was a really tough choice and this whole process is way outside of my comfort zone. I would really rather be spending time with my son and I’m concerned about the retaliation and never working in entertainment again because it’s so well-known that they don’t really hire people of a certain age,” he said. “But I felt in this case the wrong was so clear, there was no ambiguity about it and the damage was very personal to me because I really loved my job. I felt like I had to do something."
He continued of his time at NBCUniversal: “It was a great place to work. We had a really tight team of people. It was like a family. I loved the people. I loved my bosses. That’s part of why we’re bringing this case because we want to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to them.”