Judge rebuffs Hollywood ageism suit

Jan. 22, 2003 at 6:57 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- A Los Angeles judge has ruled against a group of Hollywood writers in a class-action age discrimination suit against studios, networks and agencies.

The judge ruled that the plaintiffs could not press the suit under California law, and may proceed in federal court -- but only with individual suits rather than a class action.

Twenty-eight TV writers over the age of 40 filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles 2000, accusing the major TV networks, studios and talent agencies of intentionally engaging in age discrimination in hiring writers.

The plaintiffs include Tracy Keenan Wynn, 57, whose work includes "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman"; Ann Marcus, who is in her 70s, whose credits include "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest"; Jay Moriarty, 54, who worked on "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons" and "Maude"; and Art Eisenson, 60, whose credits include "Kojak."

The defendants include NBC, the Walt Disney Co. and ABC, Fox Entertainment Group, Time-Warner, Viacom and CBS, Columbia TriStar, DreamWorks and talent agencies such as CAA, ICM and the William Morris Agency.

The federal suit alleged violations of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Labor Management Relations Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. After a federal court ruled that there was no basis for a class action suit in the matter, the plaintiffs refiled in state court.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy ruled Tuesday that, since the plaintiffs had already filed in federal court, they could not refile the same claims in state court.

Paul Sprenger, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, told United Press International he will continue to press the issue.

"We consider this a bump in the road," said Sprenger. "The judge permitted us to proceed on several fronts, which we will do by filing unfair competition claims."

Sprenger said he would consider appealing the ruling or proceeding with different class-action claims, but he did not expect to proceed with individual claims.

"These people -- that is the networks, studios and agencies -- are as guilty as sin," said Sprenger. "Anyone looking at this knows that and we have to get to the merits and the truth of the matter."

According to the original complaint, systematic discrimination against television writers over 40 has been pervasive since the early 1980s as networks and advertisers seek younger audiences -- and believe they need younger writers to attract them.

The complaint alleged that 70 percent of all TV comedy writers were under 40, while those in that age group comprised only 42 percent of available writers. The plaintiffs alleged that while only 19 series during the 1990-91 TV season employed no writer over the age of 50, by the 1997-98 season, 77 series -- about two-thirds -- had no writer over 50.

The suit alleged that Gary David Goldberg, a producer for ABC's "Spin City," said the program had no writers on the set over the age of 29 -- by design. The complaint quoted "Friends" producer Marta Kauffman as saying that older writers are not hired because after the age of 40 they can no longer "do it" and because the networks and studios are looking for young people coming out of college.

The suit stemmed from a 1998 study commissioned by the Writers Guild of America West that showed sharply decreased employment opportunities for writers over 40.

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