TV WRITERS HIT BOSSES WITH CLASS ACTION AGE DISCRIMINATION
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.
[December 7, 2004]
Aging TV writers who believe they can no longer find work in youth-crazy
Hollywood because they've been "graylisted" after turning 40 have hit networks,
producers, and agents with a class action, age discrimination lawsuit.
After interviewing plaintiff
Burt Prelutsky about the issues of politics and ageism in Hollywood (see Bush
Re-Election Destroys Hollywood Friendships), the Investigator interviewed
attorney Steven Sprenger about the lawsuit.
Investigator: What is the name of this class action suit? Where was it filed and how long ago?
Sprenger: The age discrimination claims were originally filed
as Wynn, et al. v. NBC, et al. in federal court in Los Angeles in
October 2000. As the result of the federal court's ruling on motions
to dismiss, the claims were refiled in 23 separate, but related, class
action suits in Los Angeles County Superior Court (Complex Case Division
-- I think they call it Central Civil West) in February 2002. Each
suit has a different case caption.
As a result of the state
trial court's ruling on demurrers, the claims were dismissed. Plaintiffs
filed an appeal, and the California court of appeal recently reversed and
reinstated the claims.
Investigator: Who's the plaintiff class? Just TV writers,
or are other job categories included?
Sprenger: TV writers who are members of the WGA and are at least 40/45/50 years of age.
Investigator: Can people who feel discriminated against still
Sprenger: In federal court the claims were pursued as an "opt
in" class action (known as a collective action). In state court the
claims are being pursued as an "opt out" class action (and so persons don't
have to opt in if we are successful on class certification); however, we
are continuing to accept new clients who believe they have been discriminated
against and would be happy to speak to such persons to discuss potential
Investigator: What's the current status of the suit? When is it expected to go to trial? When might a final judgement
be handed down?
Sprenger: The defendants have petitioned the California Supreme
Court for review of the court of appeal decision. We expect to hear
whether review will be granted sometime between late December and late
January . No trial date has been set. In fact, no discovery
has even taken place.
My best guess is that the
cases will be scheduled for trial sometime in 2006, but I caution that
the defendants are masters of delay and obfuscation.
Investigator: How much damages are being requested? Might you also seek a consent decree or specific performance? Any
chance of settling?
Sprenger: Most cases settle, but whether these cases will
settle is an open question. Plaintiffs have not made any formal demands
for damages and have not been provided with each defendant's hiring data.
Based on the statistical
data we now have, the total damages likely exceed $200 million. Plaintiffs
are also seeking injunctive type relief (i.e., a consent decree) that would
eliminate the existing barriers to the hiring of older TV writers. The consent decree may include, among other things, hiring goals, a formal
application process and initial "blind" screening of writer applicants.
about the current state of the lawsuit can be found at Writers
Case. Steven Sprenger is a partner at Sprenger & Lang, PLLC. He can be reached by email and has a website.
Read more about employment discrimination in the entertainment industry in Hollywood Witches.
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