Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

January 22nd, 2003 | Paula Brantner

Is Hollywood ageist?

Some would say that’s akin to asking whether the sky is blue or the Pope is Catholic. However, challenging Hollywood’s practices in court may be more difficult to accomplish, as was demonstrated in two recent cases. It was announced today that a California state court judge has dismissed a class action lawsuit, Wynn, et al. v. National Broadcasting Company, et al., brought by more than 175 writers who claimed that television networks, Hollywood studios and talent agencies discriminate against those over 40. (See AP story.) The lawsuit, brought by Minneapolis-based law firm Sprenger & Lang, targeted six television networks, including CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, 12 production companies and 11 talent agencies. The suit claimed that the networks, studios and production companies rejected individuals for writing opportunities or gave them less favorable terms and conditions of employment based upon their age, while talent agencies either declined to represent older writers or provided less effective representation. (See www.writerscase.com, a web site devoted to information about the case.) The dismissal does not necessarily mean the end of the cases, however, as it is still possible for the cases to proceed individually, instead of as an industry-wide class action. However, any case which proceeds individually will require the plaintiff bringing suit to show how he or she was personally discriminated against–a much more difficult legal battle.

In another case involving Hollywood and age-based discrimination, a Florida professor says he’s challenging the audition policy of the Fox program “American Idol,” claiming that Fox’s practice of requiring participants to be between the ages of 16 and 24 is discriminatory. (See People story.) Drew Cummings, a 50-year-old visiting professor of film and TV at Florida’s Miami-Dade Community College, was turned away from a Nov. 2 casting call for the show for not meeting the show’s age requirements. However, before filing a lawsuit, Cummings must first go to either the federal or state agencies handling discrimination cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations, and both agencies have said they are not investigating and would not investigate this type of complaint. (See Naples Daily News story.) An FCHR spokesperson said, “In order for a case to come our way, it would need to have something to do with employment, housing, public accommodations or certain private club memberships,” and that the FCHR generally does not investigate claims generated in connection with television programs. The EEOC reacted with similar skepticism, as one of their attorneys responded, “This doesn’t sound like he’s alleging employment discrimination and those are the laws that we enforce.” It appears that both of these cases face uphill battles in challenging the status quo in Hollywood, but they have at least succeeded in drawing additional attention to the issue of ageism in Hollywood.

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