Agencies’ Antitrust Suit Against the Writers Guild Likely to Go to Trial, Judge Says

Final ruling is expected to come in within the next couple of weeks

Last Updated: December 6, 2019 @ 2:02 PM

The Writers Guild of America’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed against it by three of Hollywood’s top agencies will likely be rejected by U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte.

At a Friday hearing, Judge Birotte indicated he would refuse to toss out the case and instead let it go to trial, according to Deadline, who first reported the news.

The agencies argued that the WGA was participating in an “illegal boycott” by having thousands of its members terminate their representation to push for the elimination of packaging fees.

Judge Birotte said he expects to file the ruling in a week or two.

“We appreciated the thoughtfulness and time the court gave to this issue,” the WGA said in a statement Friday. “Our lawyers clearly articulated why the agencies’ complaint should be dismissed. We look forward to seeing the court’s ruling.”

This past summer, William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency and United Talent Agency sued the WGA, saying that it was participating in an “illegal boycott” by having thousands of its writers terminate their representation in order to pressure the agencies to eliminate packaging fees. The lawsuit was filed also in part as a response to WGA’s own lawsuit against the three agencies and ICM Partners, arguing that packaging fees — payments from a studio to agents in exchange for packaging talent for a project — violate labor law by serving as a kickback payment from an employer to an employee’s representative.

The agency lawsuit sought an injunction against the WGA, a jury trial, and triple damages and attorney fees.

“Plaintiffs have and will continue to lose work, lose clients (thousands so far), lose packaging fees, and suffer irreparable harm to its business and property as a result of WGA’s unlawful conspiracy,” the agencies’ complaint said. “In addition, the ultimate consumers of film and television shows will be injured by the reduction in film and television output caused by WGA’s conspiracy.”

In their motion to dismiss, the WGA argues that antitrust laws preventing illegal boycotts do not apply to them, citing labor laws that allow for unions to improve their working conditions through self-organizing. In their legal brief, the DOJ offered a glimpse of what the agencies might argue to counter the guild’s claims, saying that many WGA members are not only writers but also producers, directors and actors, and therefore participating in an illegal boycott by leaving their agencies even in those roles.

WGA membership’s mass termination of agency representation included TV showrunners who can hold other roles on a project, most commonly as a producer.