TV Writers’ Age Discrimination Suit Settles for $70M

NBC, CBS, FOX, and others settle 10 years of litigation with 165 plaintiffs

A massive age discrimination lawsuit that ensnared 17 major television networks and studios and seven talent agencies for nearly 10 years reached a $70 million settlement on Friday.

Over 165 television writers — all over 40 years old –alleged that  networks, production companies, and talent agencies refused to hire or represent them because of overt age bias.

Among the big players named in the suit were networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC; talent agencies that include the Endeavor Agency (now William Morris Endeavor), the Gersh Agency and Paradigm Talent & Literary Agency; and production companies like Carsey-Werner and Spelling Television.

There was one holdout, however. The Creative Artists Agency (CAA) declined to enter into the settlement.

The suits enumerated violations of the Federal Age Discrimination In Employment Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the Labor Management Relations Act.

Also named initially in the suit, talent agency ICM agreed to a separate $4.5 million settlement with the plaintiffs in August 2008.

Friday's settlement is subject to final approval by the California Superior Court. This can take a while. For instance, the agreement with ICM had to clear several hurdles over a period of nearly a year before claimants ever saw any money.

According to the terms of the settlement, the writers won't receive a set share.. Instead, class members will apply to a fund, named the Fund for the Future, which will be governed by a board composed of settlement class members. The fund will issue grants and loans for approved projects on a competitive basis.

Two-thirds of the $70 million will be paid by insurance carriers.

“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,” said Paul Sprenger of Sprenger + Lang in Washington, D.C., lead counsel for the defendants, in a statement.

Lawyers for defendants sought to portray Friday's announcement as less an acknowledgement of the validity of the plaintiffs’ claims than a shared desire by the studios, networks and agencies named in the suit to close the door on years of costly litigation.

“We were fully prepared to oppose class certification and would have prevailed at trial if necessary,” Seth E. Pierce, of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, Defendants’ liaison counsel, said in a statement. “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.”

Defendants were represented by, among others, the law firms of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, Epstein Turner & Song, P.C., Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard & Shapiro, LLP, Kaye Scholer LLP, Judith Salkow Shapiro, P.C., Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, Munger, Tolles & Olsen LLP, Murchison & Cummings LLP, Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP, and Proskauer Rose LLP.

Sprenger, who made the announcement jointly with the defendants, is no stranger to showy class action suits. Another case he litigated served as the basis for the 2005 Charlize Theron drama "North Country."