« Christoph Büchel's VARA Victory | Main | Rescheduled - Seton Hall University School of Law, Sports and Entertainment Law Journal 2010 Sports & Entertainment Law Symposium »

TV Writers Settle Decade-Long Age Discrimination Litigation

By Barry Skidelsky, Esq. (co-chair NYSBA/EASL/TV-Radio Committee; contact: bskidelsky@mindspring.com or 212-832-4800).

On January 22, 2010, 17 television networks and production studios and 7 talent agencies settled 19 of 23 separate class actions filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, based on alleged intentional and unintentional age discrimination in the selection, employment and representation of television writers. As three companion cases had previously settled, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) is left as the lone holdout.

The procedural history of the TV writers’ cases (which is set forth in Alch et al v. Time Warner Entertainment et al, 122 Cal. App. 4th 339 (2004), subsequent history omitted), began in 2000 as a federal court action under applicable federal law, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (which generally protects workers aged 40 or more). That action was dismissed with leave to amend in 2002. Rather than pursue their federal case, Plaintiffs then instead filed 23 separate complaints in California state court, based on state law statutes involving fair employment, civil rights and unfair competition. The parties litigated aggressively over 10 years in the trial courts before five different judges, during which period 20 of the named plaintiffs died and five different appeals ensued, two of which reached the California Supreme Court (primarily involving class certification and discovery matters). Although the past decade saw thousands of pages of documents produced and thousands of interrogatories answered, discovery was still at an incipient stage and the class not yet certified. Thus, with final resolution still years away, the parties agreed (without any admission of liability by defendants) that it made sense to now bring these protracted cases to a close and obtain preliminary approval of the settlement.

The amount of the settlement is $70 million, the largest-ever settlement in the history of age discrimination litigation. Of that sum (two-thirds of which is to be funded by insurance carriers), about $25 million is expected to be paid to plaintiffs’ counsel; and, about $2.5 million is to be set aside into a so-called Fund for the Future to be created (which intends, inter alia, to make loans and grants to TV writers). The remainder of the record-breaking settlement sum is to be paid pursuant to a single formula to class members, which includes both professional and aspiring writers, subject to withholding taxes and union pension or health and welfare deductions as may be appropriate (interestingly, the Writers Guild was not a party to this litigation).

Writers who believe they were unlawfully denied a TV writing opportunity during the class period (from October 22, 1996 to January 22, 2010) and want a piece of this pie must file a claim form (available at www.tvwriterssettlementadmin.com) no later than April 13, 2010. A final approval hearing of the TV writers’ settlement is scheduled for May 5, 2010, in L.A. Superior Court.

It should also be noted that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reported a significant uptick in age discrimination complaints. The latest figures show that for the 2008 fiscal year, 24,582 charges of age discrimination were filed with the agency, almost a 29% increase over the prior year, and by far the largest number of such charges filed in the past 10 years. No employer, not even a law firm, is immune. In fact, on January 28, 2010, the EEOC filed an age discrimination complaint in federal court in Manhattan (SDNY) against the nationally known law firm of Kelly Drye and Warren, the details of this action being beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that, without doubt, the difficult economic circumstances we all face today is having a disparate impact (no pun intended) on baby boomers and other older workers; and, all employers (including law firms) would be well advised to review and improve their hiring and other employment practices.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

About

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 8, 2010 1:38 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Christoph Büchel's VARA Victory.

The next post in this blog is Rescheduled - Seton Hall University School of Law, Sports and Entertainment Law Journal 2010 Sports & Entertainment Law Symposium.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.