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Court Paves Way for Writers' Class Action

September 15, 2004|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of television writers pursuing age-discrimination claims against networks, studios and talent agencies won a major victory Tuesday when a California appeals court paved the way for their suit to proceed with class-action status.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs estimated the ruling could affect more than 6,000 unemployed or underemployed Hollywood writers over the age of 40.

In an 83-page decision, the California Court of Appeal overturned a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge's January 2003 dismissal of the class-action suit. That decision would have forced the plaintiffs to pursue their claims individually.

A group of 51 writers first filed suit in federal court in 2000, alleging that the large networks and studios, along with major talent agencies, systematically discriminated against older writers as they sought to produce programming palatable to young viewers. After that case was dismissed, the writers, joined by more than 100 colleagues, filed 23 class-action suits in state court.

The Superior Court had reasoned that the plaintiffs could not file for class-action status in state court after the unsuccessful federal class-action case. But appellate Justice Paul Boland, joined by two other justices in the unanimous ruling, rejected that view, allowing the case to return to Superior Court for trial.

"For the plaintiffs, [the appellate ruling] means a total victory," said Paul C. Sprenger, a Washington attorney who represents many of the writers. "We are looking forward to the trial of the case."

Sprenger said the writers would seek damages of up to $100 million from each of the 11 networks and studios and 12 agencies named in the suit.

Gordon Krischer, who represents Time Warner Entertainment and affiliated companies named as defendants, said he had not yet read the ruling and could not comment. Calls to six attorneys representing other defendants were not returned.

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