Saturday, January 16, 2010
A 10-year-old class action age discrimination lawsuit by dozens of television writers against some of the major television networks and others, has finally ended in a $70 million settlement. The plaintiffs were 165 television writers, who insisted that they had been discriminated against by the television studios, talent agencies and television networks because of their age. The talent agencies were sued because they refused to represent the writers and help them get work.
Although the settlement seems like a huge amount, it is not that much of a liability for the defendants. Approximately 2/3rd of the settlement will be paid by the insurers, and none of the defendants will be liable for more than $1 million each. $2.5 million of the settlement is earmarked to create a Fund for the Future that will grant loans to the affected writers to improve their financial prospects, and enhance their writing careers. After you subtract lawyer’s fees and litigation expenses, you are left with just $245,000 for each plaintiff.
The Writer’s Guild of America has conducted research which has found that since the class action suit was filed, the percentage of employed television writers below 31 years of age has fallen to 6.2 percent of the total number of writers in 2007, from 9.8 percent in 1999. There are other indications that in the 10 years since the suit was filed, age has ceased to be such a primary factor in the employment of television writers. Some of that might have been the result of the lawsuit, but there has also been a perceptible shift in television viewing patterns. More and more television audiences are now comprised of people in their 40s and 50s, who watch the police and medical shows that are so popular now. This necessitates writers of the same demographic who can write for these audiences.
Even so, California employment lawyers continue to be concerned about low employment rates for older writers in a youth-obsessed entertainment industry.