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Judge Dismisses TV Writers Suit

Plaintiffs, who allege networks and studios discriminate against writers over 40, will have to pursue their claims individually.

January 22, 2003|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought by more than 175 writers who alleged that television networks, Hollywood studios and talent agencies discriminate against writers over the age of 40.

The ruling means that the plaintiffs will have to pursue their claims in individual lawsuits.

The writers alleged that television networks' zealous pursuit of young viewers has institutionalized a system of age discrimination. They claimed they have been "gray-listed" because opportunities to work in television dried up soon after they hit 40.

The suit targeted six television networks, including CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox; 12 production companies and 11 talent agencies, including the William Morris Agency and Creative Artists Agency.

Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy Jr., however, dismissed the claim of Cecile Alch vs. Time Warner Entertainment on several grounds.

In some instances, the judge wrote in his Jan. 16 ruling, the alleged violations occurred long before the one-year time limit to bring charges under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.

McCoy also said the writers could not successfully argue that an industrywide pattern exists without first proving individual violations. The judge said the writers could not sue talent agencies under California's employment act because they were not employers.

In addition, McCoy concluded that the writers could not file class-action lawsuits in state court after seeking class-action status in federal court.

CBS issued a statement that said: "We are pleased the court has decided that these television writers cannot proceed on such a broad-based claim. We are also confident that any individual claims of discrimination will be shown to have no merit."

The plaintiffs' lead attorneys called McCoy's ruling "a bump in the road" and said they probably will appeal or file new claims.

"We're going to go forward," attorney Paul C. Sprenger said. "Employers love to delay and talk about procedure. But all we want to do is get to the heart of the matter because these are meritorious claims."

Ann Marcus, a 41-year member of the Writers Guild of America and a plaintiff in the case, was disappointed in McCoy's ruling.

"I've had a long and marvelous career, but this case is an attempt to help writers in their 40s and 50s who are vibrant, very creative and have good ideas," Marcus said.

"But these writers are being pushed out of the market by network and studio executives who wrongly believe they cannot speak to people in their 20s and 30s."

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