Ex-'American Idol' staffers find employment conditions a little pitchy

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Ex-'American Idol' staffers find employment conditions a little pitchy

Thu Mar 19, 2009 @ 07:04PM PST

By Matthew Belloni

Cowell,simon Another shot was fired today in the Great Reality Labor Struggle of the '00s. A bunch of former employees of "American Idol" producer FremantleMedia North America filed a class-action lawsuit claiming violations of the California labor code. According to the filing, they've been overworked without overtime, had their time cards falsified and denied meals and rest periods.

Here's the complaint.

Sound familar? It's almost the same lawsuit filed against ABC, Fox, CBS and a some production entities in 2005 alleging unlawful employment practices on shows like "The Bachelor," "Trading Spouces" and "Are You Hot?" That case was settled for $4 million in January.

The WGA, which helped coordinate the 2005 case, isn't claiming any credit for today's filing. But the guild has recently upped its efforts to organize the story-shapers behind some of the biggest hits on TV, and these cases have been seen by many in the labor law community as a hardball tactic in that crusade.

Will it work? Who knows. Time was the studios operated on a different plane when it came to labor laws. Get a job slinging office supplies at Staples and you knew the government was going to prevent illegal employment practices. But the same job in Hollywood opened you up to endless hours and abusive conditions without much recourse. 

But times have changed, at least at the studios and major production companies. At the polite urging of the guilds, New York and California law have taken off the kid gloves and now watch Hollywood with a close and skeptical eye. It helps that the studios are now part of giant media conglomerates with far more stringent codes of conduct designed to prevent just the kind of lawsuit filed today.

But the nascent unscripted world is still something of a wild west. We've heard stories of 20 hour workdays, dangerous workplaces and, in the words of one lawyer hired to advise a reality shoot, "scary violations."  The studios got their act together, though. It's probably just a matter of time before the reality genre--and its labor practices--grow up a little.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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