Lawsuit reveals working culture at Penthouse

// 27 February 2009

Penthouse is being sued by a former employee, who alleges she was fired without cause from her job on one of their websites, reports Gawker.

Without commenting on the impact of the porn Penthouse produces, the lawsuit has brought up some interesting insights into what it’s like for women working for companies that produce mainstream porn. The former employee in the lawsuit, Natalie Cedeno, worked as HR director for a porn company that was taken over by Penthouse, and describes a total change in workplace environment.

Here’s a description of when the company was under previous management:

According to Cedeno, Various operated Adult FriendFinder and other X-rated adult sites for seven years without drawing a single sexual-harassment lawsuit from employees. The company was as buttoned-down as nearby NASA contractors. Office rules restricted employees from posting any photos on office walls, or even having naughty screensavers. Cedeno says the company’s longtime postman had to ask her, after six years of delivering mail, what the company actually did.

Under new management:

When management announced that the venerable porn magazine’s stable of nude models would be stopping by the office to serve ice cream, one female employee objected, as Cedeno tells the story. When they arrived, one of the scantily clad Pets made a beeline for the dissenter. “They came into her office and placed her breasts on her head in an attempt to humiliate her, and they had someone ready to take pictures,” Cedeno says. The employee quit soon after the incident.

So, they instructed one of their female employees to humiliate (sexually harrass?) another of their female employees. There are all kinds of interesting layers to this, aren’t there? Not least that one set of employees is described as and expects a totally different standard of workplace behaviour than the others, who are described as a “stable of nude models”, animalising them.

Then we have this:

The evening before Cedeno was terminated last month, she says she brought up at a meeting of executives an employee who had charged thousands of dollars in lapdances to the company — an expense the company’s pre-Penthouse management wouldn’t have tolerated. “The president laughed and said the CEO had paid for lapdances for investment bankers with company money last weekend,” Cedeno says.

And there’s more:

She also says that in January 2008, Rob Brackett, president of the company’s Internet group, told her that CEO Marc Bell had complained to him in December — the first day he came to visit Penthouse’s new acquisition — that the women in FriendFinder’s technology department were “ugly” and that Cedeno should get rid of them and replace them with more attractive workers to keep the male employees happy. Brackett pressed Cedeno, asking her how she was going to satisfy Bell. She refused the request.

Comments From You

Sam // Posted 27 February 2009 at 2:03 pm

‘Without commenting on the impact of the porn Penthouse produces, the lawsuit has brought up some interesting insights into what it’s like for women working for companies that produce mainstream porn.’

The lawsuit demonstrates that we *cannot* generalise from what a company produces what it will be like for women to work there.

A porn company can apparently be “as buttoned-down as nearby NASA contractors”, or a hotbed of misogyny, depending on management. Like any company.

Qubit // Posted 27 February 2009 at 3:28 pm

I find this article confusing because as far as I’m aware adult friend finder was equivalent to a dating website for people looking for casual sex. While I can see how this would be defined as X-rated I can’t see how it would be defined as porn as it is about two individuals looking for a mutually satisfying (physical) relationship.

In my opinion porn is about the performance of one or more individuals for another parties pleasure. These strike me as two very different concepts.

I guess it is possible that the other sites were more conventional porn. It would then be interesting to know their nature, whether they were porn from paid performers or amateurs who found the thought of their sexual practices being viewed a turn on. Without knowing this it is very had to compare the ethos of the two companies. Therefore it is hard to say how surprising the change in atmosphere is.

I would certainly feel uncomfortable in the latter mentioned work place however would not mention anything in fear of being victimised.

Kuja // Posted 27 February 2009 at 5:31 pm

In the company I used to work for, the directors once used company money to pay for lapdances on a “business event”. It was a financial office, so nothing to do with the type of work, it just happened to be run by misogynistic and sexist managers and directors (all male without exception), while all the receptionists and assistants were female (without exception).

Riot Kitty // Posted 28 February 2009 at 8:29 pm

I can’t believe there are still people who think this type of outrageous behavior is OK. It reminds me of the lawsuit against Hooters several years ago in the U.S. When several waitresses sued for sexual harassment, the managers essentially said, “What did you expect?” Meanwhile, they chain describes itself as a “family restaurant.” Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it! I was so happy the day they all closed.

Donna // Posted 28 February 2009 at 11:12 pm

This is what scares me about growing up and working.. The outright misogyny, especially with businessmen or other high flying workers. Apparently at uni, the male lecturers talk about the female students they’d like to screw (i’m at top 10 uni too, a womens’ officer, my a female lecturer told me), and the dynamic for any female lecturer in a staff room is awful.

Apparently ‘powerful’ men love nothing more than misogyny. Lap dancing ventures are popular, so is discrediting female peers. I wonder why that is?

It’s hearing things like this that makes me just wish there weren’t any men on the planet. There are nice guys in the world. But I really don’t think I could just sit there while a load of old men organised a lap dancing event with company money.

Naomi // Posted 2 March 2009 at 11:23 am

“Placed her breasts on her head”?

Natalie Cedeno // Posted 19 March 2009 at 7:55 pm

I read the comments about my pending lawsuit and I thank you for attempting to shed light onto a problem I experienced. One thing your readers should know is that the problems I had noted occured after FriendFinder/AdultFriendFinder was purchased by Penthouse.

I was an executive in the corporate office for 7 tears before the purchase and after one year I was able to see a much different business mentality than what we had all worked so hard to maintain (professionalism and a sense of protection for the staff and business).

Let me know if I can address anything for you or your readers.

Best regards,


D Jackson // Posted 21 May 2009 at 10:16 pm

Its funny. I had heard that the previous company owner had more than one sexual harassment complaint against him. And I would assume that would mean before PH bought the company. Was there any truth to those reports?

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