A recent lawsuit claims that the woman who was the acting director of the Palm Springs International Film Festival was offered the job permanently, but only for half the salary of the man doing the same job before her, reports the Desert Sun.  She was then fired from the festival when she said no. 

The lawsuit was filed by Helen Du Toit, who was the fest’s artistic director before taking over the executive director position when Darryl McDonald became severely ill in 2016.  Du Toit held the position, along with her job as artistic director, for three months before being offered it permanently.

But the pay, according to her lawsuit, was “an insult.” Du Toit claims she was offered $90,000 to become executive director and her predecessor, McDonald, had been paid about $180,000.

Du Toit rejected the deal. Five days later, at a meeting of the film festival board, her job as artistic director came to an abrupt end. Du Toit’s attorney called the termination a “blatant” case of discrimination.

“She was a loyal employee who worked for them for 12 years,” said Nick Rosenthal of the Diversity Law Group in Los Angeles. “But they weren’t willing to pay her what they paid her male predecessor. And when she wouldn’t accept half the money, they replaced her with another man.”

Du Toit claims she was offered the position of director of the 2016 Short Fest the same day she was terminated.  She took the position, but claims she was told that she would not be working for the festival in any capacity after it was over in August.

The festival claims Du Toit’s allegations are not true.

Dave Baron, vice chairman of Palm Springs International Film Society, which runs the film festival, said Du Toit was offered a total compensation worth $135,000 and that the pay was lower than her predecessor for a variety of reasons, including a skill set that was “not as broad” and that she had less experience.

McDonald, Du Toit’s predecessor, was considered one of the top film festival directors in the country, who had led the Palm Springs festival for more than a decade and had previously co-founded the Seattle International Film Festival, the nation’s largest film festival.

Baron said he would not go into more detail about Du Toit, but questioned how anyone could be insulted by a six-figure job offer.

Many of the allegations in the lawsuit involve Harold Matzner, the chairman of the film society.

“I think what we see is that Harold Matzner continues to run the Palm Springs film festival as his own fiefdom,” Nick Rosenthal, Du Toit’s attorney, told the Desert Sun. ”He runs it on his own whims.”

The city of Palm Springs regularly gives $350,000 in taxpayer dollars to the festival as part of its yearly budget.   The city and former Mayor Steve Pougnet are currently under investigation by the FBI.  Pougnet was paid somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000 to consult for the festival while he was still mayor.

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