TV writers settle age discrimination suit

Group of 165 scribes over 40 to get $70 million

Lawyers behind a class-action settlement that will resolve discrimination charges by aging Hollywood writers against 24 networks, production studios and talent agencies are hailing the agreement as a “bright spot” at a time when Hollywood is being buffeted by difficult circumstances.

“The importance of the settlement cannot be overestimated, given the fact that television shows — even in this era of multiple entertainment platforms — remain crucial in shaping our culture,” said a statement from AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys, who worked for eight years as co-counsel with a group of 165 TV writers who filed the suit. “Television greatly influences the public’s perceptions and, yes, sometimes feeds unfortunate stereotypes about different groups in society.”

The class-action settlement, which resolves 19 separate actions, calls for payment of $70 million to affected writers. The decade-old suit, which was originally filed in federal court, is now subject to final approval by a state court in Los Angeles.

The massive age-discrimination case was filed by writers over age 40 in 2000, alleging 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.

Attorneys for both sides made the joint announcement Friday. ICM and Broder Kurland had reached the first settlements in the case in August 2008 for $5 million. Plaintiffs’ attorneys said Friday that CAA remains the lone holdout in what came to be known as the Television Age Discrimination Litigation.

In the announcement, an attorney for the nets, producers and tenpercenteries denied the ageism allegations, asserting that it made sense to settle rather than continue battling in court.

“We were fully prepared to oppose class certification and would have prevailed at trial if necessary,” said Seth E. Pierce of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. “But with years of disruptive litigation remaining and all networks and major television studios and talent agencies participating in the settlement, it made sense to bring these protracted cases to a close.”

Paul Sprenger, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said: “I speak for all class counsel in recommending that all settlement class members accept the settlement. We are honored to represent a distinguished and talented group of clients and class members.”

When the suit was filed in 2000, named plaintiffs included Tracy Keenan Wynn, who was 55 at the time and whose work includes “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”; Ann Marcus, whose credits include “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest”; Jay Moriarty, 54 at the time with credits on “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Maude”; and Art Eisenson, who was 58 at that point with credits on “Kojak.”

The TV defendants include ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, the WB, UPN, Columbia TriStar Television, DreamWorks TV, Universal Media Studios, Regency Television, Spelling Television, the Carsey-Werner Co., Touchstone Television, Twentieth Century Fox Television and Warner Bros. Television.

The agencies are APA, the Endeavor Agency, the Gersh Agency, Paradigm Talent & Literary Agency, Shapiro-Lichtman, UTA and the William Morris Agency. Endeavor and WMA merged last year.

The settlement spells out the process for affected writers to apply for cash from the settlement fund. About $2.5 million of the settlement will be used to create a Fund for the Future for 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. In the joint announcement, the attorneys said that two-thirds of the $70 million settlement payment will be paid by insurance carriers.

The AARP Foundation said it would continue to participate in the case against CAA: “Writers obviously play a key role in developing themes for those programs; age — and other forms of diversity — obviously are a real plus in the hiring of those writers.”

A CAA rep said, “We are not commenting on pending litigation.”

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