TV Networks, Talent Firm Reach $70 Million Settlement With Older Writers

January 25, 2010

Seventeen major television networks and production studios and seven talent agencies have reached a $70 million settlement of complaints brought by 165 writers aged 40 or older who alleged age discrimination.

Approximately two-thirds of the $70 million settlement payment will be paid by insurance carriers for the defendants, who denied the allegations and defended their employment policies.

The networks and agencies have agreed to pay a total of $70 million to settle all claims and attorneys’ fees. Approximately $2.5 million of this total settlement amount will be used to create a Fund for the Future, which will issue grants and loans to settlement class members to further their writing careers and study ways to supplement their pensions and improve access to medical insurance.

The defendants include such well-known media corporations as NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, Universal Media Studios, Touchstone Television, Twentieth Century Fox Television and Warner Brothers, as well as a number of talent agencies including UTA and the William Morris Agency.

The agreement settles 19 complaints by plaintiffs who complained they were discriminated against because of their age when they sought work as televison writers or sought talent agency representation.

The cases alleged that the discrimination was intentional and unintentional age against those 40 years and older.

The litgation dates back to 2000 and the trail includes several appeals to the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court.

The announcement was made jointly by the defendants and Paul Sprenger of Washington D.C., lead counsel for the 165 named plaintiffs and the settlement classes. The settlement is subject to final approval by the California Superior Court in and for the County of Los Angeles.

As part of the agreement, the defendants strongly denied the plaintiffs’ allegations and stated that their hiring and representation practices fully comply with the law and reflect their commitment to equal employment opportunity.

They also noted that they all have long-standing anti-discrimination policies and regularly employ or represent “substantial numbers of writers over the age of 40.”

The defendant networks and production companies are ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The WB, UPN, Columbia TriStar Television, Inc., DW SKG TV L.L.C., Universal Media Studios, Regency Television, Spelling Television, The Carsey-Werner Company LLC, Touchstone Television, Twentieth Century Fox Television, and Warner Bros. Television.

The defendant talent agencies are APA, The Endeavor Agency, The Gersh Agency, Paradigm Talent & Literary Agency, Shapiro-Lichtman, UTA and the William Morris Agency LLC.

The settlement provides a process for settlement class members to apply for an allocated cash distribution from the settlement fund. The Fund for the Future, which will be governed by a board composed of settlement class members, will issue grants and loans for approved projects on a competitive basis.

Defendants’ lawyer, Seth E. Pierce, of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, said his clients were fully prepared to oppose class certification and believe they would have prevailed at trial if necessary. However, they decided “it made sense” to end the “disruptive litigation” that could have dragged on for years.

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