One day before Disney debuts its new Broadway musical, “Frozen,” the studio’s theatrical group president has been accused of sexually harassing employees. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation published on February 21, Thomas Schumacher “has offended numerous employees over the years with explicit language and behavior, including comments about subordinates’ sexual attractiveness, discussions about pornography and walking through the office in a bathrobe while boasting he had nothing on underneath, according to people who said they witnessed the episodes.”
The newspaper chronicled accusations dating back to the ’90s, when Bruce Williams — a former employee in Disney’s story-development department — said that his then-boss made “salacious and inappropriate” comments toward him, including “compliments on my ass.” Williams said he reported Schumacher’s behavior to two supervisors in 1994, and Disney’s human-resources department responded by saying, “We’ve spoken to Tom and he apologizes,” adding, “this time I think he’s heard us.” Disney told The Wall Street Journal that it has no record of Williams’ complaint.
Employees also catalogued multiple accusations from 2006. That year, they say Schumacher, who is gay, mused of wanting to help fit “American Idol” alum Josh Strickland for the loincloth he wore as Broadway’s “Tarzan.” Also, witnesses said they heard Schumacher tease the biracial son of his former assistant, Jane Buchanan, about black men in the bedroom. Buchanan signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevented her from speaking to The Wall Street Journal, while Strickland said, “At no point did I ever feel uncomfortable.”
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Within the last two to three years, employees also said they had heard Schumacher at work discussing erections. Through a confidant, Schumacher denied each incident in the article, but the person did say Schumacher “at times acknowledged using inappropriate language, expressed regret, and committed to being more mindful and adhering to company policies going forward.”
Schumacher joined Disney in 1988 and once worked as the company’s president of feature animation; he executive produced last year’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and will do the same with the forthcoming live-action version of “The Lion King,” starring Donald Glover and Beyoncé.
Since 2003, Schumacher has shepherded some of Disney’s most popular musicals from the screen to the stage; among his division’s Broadway credits are “The Lion King, “Aida, “Tarzan,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Newsies,” and “Aladdin.”
Schumacher was unanimously elected chairman of the Broadway League — the Tony-hosting trade group of theater owners and producers — in November 2017. At Disney, he also currently oversees the company’s touring and licensed productions, such as Disney on Ice and Disney Live!
A Disney spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that all “complaints are thoroughly investigated and appropriate action is taken.”
Schumacher is also credited with working to establish a partnership with Pixar Animation Studios, which Disney acquired in 2006. Pixar and Disney Animation’s Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, took a six-month leave of absence in November following his own allegations of carrying out workplace sexual harassment.