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ICM settles ageism suit

Class action suit to pay out $4.5 million

A group of over-40 television writers settled a long-running age discrimination lawsuit against ICM on Tuesday.

The $4.5 million settlement with ICM brings to an end the first among 23 class actions filed against talent agencies, producers and studios, including ABC, CBS, Disney, Fox, NBC Universal, Columbia, Warner Bros. and other percenteries including CAA, WMA and Endeavor.

In addition to the payment, ICM agreed to establish an independent task force to examine its representation policies and participate in a job relief program to promote older television writers.

The massive age-discrimination case was filed by television writers over age 40 in 2000. It alleges they were victims of systematic age discrimination by talent agents, who aided and abetted networks and studios by refusing to represent and refer older writers for work at the studios. The suit, which was originally filed in federal court, is now in California state court.

In a statement, Steve Sprenger, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said: “The settlement agreement with ICM provides these talented television writers with a fair resolution of their claims. However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us to get these older writers the programmatic and monetary relief they deserve.”

A source familiar with the settlement said ICM was pleased the litigation was over and noted that insurance covered most of the settlement, which concluded two lawsuits, one against ICM and the other against the former Broder Kurland agency, which ICM acquired two years ago. One key to the settlement is there’s no admission of wrongdoing in the consent decree.

The source also minimized the effect the programmatic relief would have on the way the agency does business, pointing out that much of it is contingent on obtaining similar settlements with the studios. For now, the source said, the agency has agreed to moderate a panel on job searches for older writers; add an age-discrimination component to employee training; and agree to a nonbinding review by an outside panel of its employment practices.

In a development related to the remaining unsettled class-action suits, the California Court of Appeal last week ordered members of the Writers Guild to respond to subpoenas seeking information about their employment. The plaintiffs claim statistical information is necessary to prepare a statistical analysis in support of their case of age discrimination. Guild members objected, citing privacy concerns.

The appellate court decision reverses an earlier decision by the trial court blocking the subpoenas. Plaintiffs’ attorney Sprenger hailed the court’s decision, stating, “While we respect and have done everything possible to protect everyone’s privacy interests, we must have this information to prove age discrimination.”