Hollywood Writers Win Age-Discrimination Case

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By Delores Amorelli, staff writer of SEOLawFirm.com’s Newsroom Column ‘In Good Practice’ – February 23, 2010

A class-action suit, more than a decade old, was recently settled when a group of older Hollywood writers was compensated for the alleged age-discrimination they experienced at the hands of Hollywood networks, production studios, and talent agencies. The defendants, who included major names such as CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC and more, agreed to pay the sum of $70 million dollars to thousands of writers for the 19 claims that were filed against them. [1]

The plaintiffs, a group of 165 writers, alleged that the defendants were trying to squeeze out Hollywood writers over 40, in order to hire younger writers who would attract younger audiences. [1] Writers claimed that they were barred from working on dramas and situational comedies, with studios and producers opting to use only younger writers for these types of shows. In addition, many of the defendants claimed that certain talent agencies refused to represent them because they were not young, in vogue writers. [2]

Although the settlement was for $70 million dollars, the majority of this sum will be covered by insurance companies, effectively having little or no impact on the actual production studios, networks, and talent agencies that were involved in the lawsuit. Basically, no network, studio or agency will itself have to pay over $1 million for the results of this case; that amount is less than the average cost of a single half-hour of television production. [2]

While winning the case was doubtless a victory for this specific group of writers, its impact on the community of older Hollywood writers remains to be seen. Although the defendants were required to pay out a large sum of money, they did so without having to admit to acts of discrimination. [2] In fact, according to a joint statement released by both sides, the defendants get the opportunity to “strongly deny the plaintiffs’ allegations and state that their hiring and/or representation practices fully comply with the law and reflect their commitment to equal employment opportunity.” [3] In this case, it seems that appeal of a large sum of money has trumped the pursuit of truth. Essentially, the defendants can chalk their loss up to wanting to make the case disappear and will never have to admit to any wrongdoing.

A case of this nature could have had inspiring results for other writers who have experienced age-discrimination in Hollywood; however, it’s unlikely that this settlement will provoke any real change, as the companies did not have to admit any illegal practices. Discrimination is actually a common complaint from Hollywood writers, though most are unwilling to bring their cases to court like this brave group of writers did, for fear of losing their jobs. [1] This fear, coupled with Hollywood’s ever increasing desire to appeal to younger audiences, may continue to prevent older writers from ever truly voicing their concerns.

This case, although specific to Hollywood writers, brings up the larger question of age-discrimination in today’s society and the negative effects it can have on older workers. If age-discrimination cases continue to be settled with the issues never resolved, age-discrimination may become an accepted practice, and employees may continue to be denied valuable opportunities. Employers, in turn, may begin to think that they can treat older employees however they wish, as long as there is enough money to go around.

Sources:

1. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jan/23/business/la-fi-ct-writers23-2010jan23 – LA Times

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/arts/television/28qwrite.html – New York Times

3. http://blogs.laweekly.com/ladaily/city-news/tv-writers-70-mil/ -LA Weekly

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