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Independent Spirit Awards Volunteers Claim Exploitation

A legion of volunteers will be on hand on Saturday at the Independent Spirit Awards, staffing tables and making sure the event runs smoothly.

But according to a class-action lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court, that arrangement violates California labor law.

The complaint, filed by former volunteer Laurie Woods, alleges that Film Independent — which runs the awards show — lures in volunteers with the promise of access to an exclusive event. But the suit claims that the promise is illusory, as volunteers are forced to work long hours without breaks and are unable to actually attend the show.

The suit seeks class status for the thousands of volunteers who have worked at the Spirit Awards and two other events run by Film Independent: the Los Angeles Film Festival and Film Independent at LACMA.

“Instead of paying Volunteer Employees for their work, Defendants provided volunteers only with free admission to the event a volunteer employee was to work,” the suit states. “However, the value of this ‘free admission’ was highly overstated and essentially worthless, as volunteers spent the majority of their time performing duties under the direction and control of Defendants.”

Film Independent did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the complaint, Woods says that she was forced to work 12-14 hour days as a volunteer at the 2014 Spirit Awards. She says she was also told to come to work early and often stayed late.

The suit claims that the events are understaffed, and there is no written meal and rest policy, so volunteers are not afforded breaks as required by law. The suit was filed by attorneys Shaun Setareh and Richard Lloyd Sherman, both of Beverly Hills.

Update, Thursday 2:10 p.m.: Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent, responds.

“Film Independent has not yet been served with papers in this matter so I can’t comment in detail. What I can say, emphatically, is that Film Independent is now and has always been committed to treating its employees, members, and volunteers with gratitude and respect, and we adhere to all applicable labor laws regarding hiring and utilizing volunteer services. Over the years we’ve been fortunate to work with thousands of volunteers and we are deeply appreciative of their contributions to our programs and mission. I myself began as a volunteer at the organization, as have several other staff members. Many of our volunteers come back year after year, and to my knowledge not one has ever filed a complaint like this one.”

Film Independent by gmaddaus on Scribd

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