Judge calls action 'abstract,' but leaves door open for refiling

A federal judge has ruled against the filing of a conflict-of-interest lawsuit over the Screen Actors Guild practice of allowing elected officers to also serve as AFTRA board members.

U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall found that the proposed suit by Rick Barker and Gil Combs presented only “abstract allegations” and failed to identify specific actions. But Marshall also made the ruling “without prejudice,” leaving the door open for Barker and Combs to refile.

SAG chief exec Bob Pisano issued a statement slamming Barker and Combs for forcing SAG to spend “tens of thousands of dollars” in dues money.

“One would hope that the members responsible for bringing this court action will, in the future, think twice before taking a step that does such significant damage to their own union,” he added. “Beyond draining guild resources, this lawsuit has distracted the elected leadership from the important, pressing issues that face them and has introduced, yet again, the kind of disharmony that has unfortunately become a rallying cry for certain factions of the membership.”

Barker called the ruling a “technicality” and said it will be relatively simple to list specific allegations, which he said he will do in a new filing by the month’s end. “This is not a win by SAG since the judge has turned down a request by SAG attorneys that this be dismissed with prejudice, which would mean we could not file again,” he said.

The action contends that the “adversarial” relationship between SAG and AFTRA makes it impossible for the dual board members to be in compliance with federal labor law. It cites ongoing and “ever increasing” jurisdictional conflicts over digitally produced programming; financial decisions by elected leaders involving “shared expenses” between the two unions; and policy differences that affect the wages and conditions of employment of SAG members.

A vote by SAG members in July to “consolidate and affiliate” the guild with AFTRA fell 2% short of the required 60% approval by SAG members. The pro-merger campaign stressed the need to avoid ongoing jurisdictional conflicts as a key reason for combining the unions.

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