The Writers Guild of America East has set Monday, Oct. 14, as the trial date for Joan Rivers, who the union has charged with violating its bylaws during the ongoing “Fashion Police” writers strike.
The hostess of the E! Entertainment show faces a fine or expulsion from the union if she is found to have performed writers’ duties – such as writing jokes — while they are on strike. Rivers’ representatives and the union have had talks over the past few weeks, but a settlement that would have precluded the trial has not been reached.
Nine “Fashion Police” writers walked off the job in May in a bid to force the Comcast-owned network to recognize them as WGA West employees. The network is insisting on a National Labor Relations Board election, which the union maintains is a stalling tactic.
Rivers will have the opportunity to present her case directly to the trial board at the hearing, which will be held at WGA East headquarters and be closed to the public. Guild bylaws preclude Rivers and the writers from bringing attorneys.
The tribunal is made up of three WGAE members, whose names have not been disclosed. They will hear evidence in the case, which will include testimony from the striking writers. The trial board will then make a recommendation, which could include sanctions up to expulsion or a fine, to the WGAE board for final action.
“We cannot pre-judge the outcome, but we can say that it is a very serious matter when a member is accused of writing and showrunning on a non-covered show and continuing to do so after the other writers have decided to go on strike for reasonable pay and benefits,” WGAE President Michael Winship said when plans to bring Rivers up on trial were announced.
It’s not a given that Rivers will participate in the hearing. And not being present for what could turn into a media circus could be the wisest strategy, Howard Bragman, vice-chairman of Reputation.com and a specialist in celebrity crisis management, told TheWrap.
“I don’t think she’d have much to gain,” he said. “This is a very inside-baseball battle. Hollywood gets it, the industry gets it, but the general public doesn’t.”
A call to Rivers’ publicist on Tuesday was not returned. She has stayed silent on the matter with one exception last month, when the famously acerbic comedienne said “This is such a bunch of bulls–t. E! should hire Anthony Weiner to work with these people. He’d fit right in.”
Beyond the public relations ramifications, it’s unclear how whatever happens with Rivers will affect the situation with the “Fashion Police” writers. They’ve been out since April 17 after expressing a desire to organize and join the WGA West.
Weeks before going on strike, the writers filed $1.5 million in wage and hour claims with the California Division of Labor Standard Enforcement against the network and Rivers’ production company, Rugby Productions. They are seeking payment for regular and overtime hours that they say they worked but were not paid for.