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Former employees file wage and hour lawsuit against Fremantle Media

The 'American Idol' producer is accused of depriving workers of overtime pay and required breaks.

March 20, 2009|Richard Verrier

Three former employees of Fremantle Media, producer of the hit Fox show "American Idol," are suing the company, alleging it deprived them of overtime pay and meal breaks required under state law.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday, the former employees -- a music coordinator for "American Idol," an associate producer for the reality-based TV series "Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency" and a producer for the game show "Temptation" -- contend that the London-based company and its various subsidiaries exposed them to sweatshop conditions.

"Employees work ten, twelve and even twenty-hour days, six or seven days a week, without overtime compensation and are forced to forgo meal and rest breaks as required by law," the suit states.

The workers further alleged that Fremantle engaged in a "fraudulent scheme" to conceal the hours they worked, forcing them to falsify their time cards so that they would not be paid overtime.

A Fremantle spokesman declined to comment.

The suit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of past and current Fremantle employees, marks the latest effort to highlight the experience of workers in the burgeoning reality TV sector, which is largely nonunionized.

The complaint echoes similar allegations that were leveled against various reality TV producers and networks in two class-action lawsuits filed in 2005. Those suits, which were backed by the Writers Guild of America, were settled in January for more than $4 million.

The union has been waging a nearly four-year campaign to organize writers who work behind the scenes of so-called unscripted programs, crafting dialogue and editing scenes for dramatic effect.

Although the guild is not involved in the latest suit, the union did "encourage" one of the key plaintiffs to consider legal action after she contacted the guild, said Jeff Hermanson, the union's assistant executive director.

"We discussed what happened to her and informed her of her rights," he said.

Last summer, the Writers Guild conducted a monthlong publicity campaign against Fremantle, holding protests around the country outside "American Idol" auditions.

The guild has also helped several former Fremantle employees file wage and hour claims with the state. In one case, the California State Labor Commissioner awarded $14,000 in overtime wages and penalties to a former "Temptation" writer.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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