FremantleMedia faces 'sweatshop' allegations

HOLLYWOOD — A trio of former employees have sued “American Idol” producer FremantleMedia North America, alleging failure to pay overtime, falsified time cards and denial of meals and rest periods.

The suit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Melody Murray, Aaron Silbermnan and Rosemarie Disalvo. The action, which also names Blue Orbit Prods, Kickoff Prods., Little Pond Television and American Productions, seeks class action status.

“The conditions in the production companies under the Fremantle umbrella resemble sweatshops: employees work 10-, 12- and even 20-hour days, six or seven days per week, without overtime compensation and are forced to forego meal and rest breaks as required by law,” the suit alleged.

“Some employees fall below minimum wage and on occasions, sleep in their office. Frequently the companies attempt to disguise their violations by purporting to pay employees for a ‘guaranteed’ 12 hour work day or 60 hour work week. Such an arrangement is, in fact, illegal and a fraudulent scheme, enabling the companies to require any amount of work, under relentless time pressure, without any additional compensation.”

The suit also alleged that the plaintiffs were required to falsify their time cards, work in excess of 40 hours per week during virtually every week of their employment without premium overtime play and were routinely denied meal and rest periods as required.

A Fremantle rep said, “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

Murray worked on “Love on the Rocks,” “Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency,” “The Osbournes” and “Thank God You’re Here.” Silberman was employed on “American Idol” and DiSalvo worked on the gameshow “Temptations.”

The suit comes two months after two 2005 class-action suits with similar allegations were settled. Next Entertainment (“The Bachelor”) settled for $2.57 million and Rocket Science Laboratories (“Joe Millionaire”) agreed to pay $1.54 million.

The plaintiffs in the earlier cases were supported by the Writers Guild of America, which has been attacking Fremantle for its allegedly unfair treatment of “American Idol” writers and other workers. The WGA — which has been seeking jurisdiction over reality shows — protested at last month’s “Idol” audition in Los Angeles and staged a five-city “Truth Tour” last summer with similar protests.

WGA spokesman Neal Sacharow said Thursday in response to the latest lawsuit, “We’ve been saying all along that there are rampant violations of labor law being committed by producers of reality TV. Until companies like Fremantle do the right thing and provide their employees with industry-standard wages and benefits, I think you’re going to see many more lawsuits like this.”

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