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ICM to settle age bias suit

August 20, 2008|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Talent agency International Creative Management Inc. has agreed to settle a 2002 lawsuit brought by more than 150 television writers who alleged they were victims of age discrimination.

The case is the first to be resolved of 23 closely watched lawsuits that seek class-action status on behalf of hundreds of writers who accuse talent agencies, studios and various production companies of systematically refusing to hire older TV writers in favor of younger scribes.

The other cases are pending, but the ICM settlement could persuade the parties to end costly litigation that has cast a spotlight on the thorny issue of ageism in Hollywood.

"The settlement agreement with ICM provides these talented television writers with a fair resolution to their claims," said attorney Steve Sprenger, who is representing the writers. "However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us."

ICM declined to comment.

The agency and insurers agreed to put $4.5 million into a settlement fund against which eligible writers would be able to make claims. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the agency also agreed to establish an independent task force to examine its representation practices.

It also will participate in a job relief program -- if one is sanctioned by the court -- that would promote the work of older television writers who would be selected by a neutral panel of qualified experts based on the quality of their writing.

Larry Mintz, one of the plaintiffs, said he felt vindicated.

"This doesn't in any way mitigate the damages, psychologically and professionally, that I've suffered, but it's a start," Mintz said. The 58-year-old writer said he had a successful career working on such series as "Sanford and Son," "The Nanny" and "Family Matters" before his income "dropped off a cliff" in the 1990s, a reversal he attributes to age discrimination.

The legal battle began in 2000, when a group of 28 screenwriters filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging that major networks, studios and talent agencies unfairly squeezed out writers over the age of 40 in their efforts to capture younger audiences, denying them employment on dramas and situation comedies.

The case was originally filed in federal court, but shifted to Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2002 after a judge said the plaintiffs couldn't pursue some of their claims against talent agencies in federal court.

Rather than pursue a single case, the plaintiffs opted, as a matter of legal strategy, to file separate claims against the various companies.

Ageism has been a hot-button topic within the Writers Guild of America, West. A report last year by the guild found that the employment share for the largest group of older writers has remained flat in recent years and that older writers were "significantly underrepresented on staffs, particularly at the major networks."

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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