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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Hollywood talent agency International Creative Management agreed on Tuesday to pay $4.5 million to settle an age-discrimination suit brought by TV writers, the first of 23 such class-action cases to be resolved.
ICM is one 12 talent agencies first sued in 2000 along with various broadcast networks and studios by screenwriters aged 40 and over who claimed they were "gray-listed" by the television industry and squeezed out of jobs in favor of younger scribes.
The ICM case represents 3 or 4 percent of total monetary damages that affected writers stand to gain industrywide if all 23 cases were settled, said Paul Sprenger, lead attorney for the writers.
He added that other cases might end soon, saying, "It's not a secret that we are in serious settlement discussions with a large segment of the remainder of the cases."
The litigation, initially filed in U.S. court but now pending in California state court, covers 150 named plaintiffs and extends to a class of roughly 10,000 writers who were aged 40 and older as of October 1996.
Besides the $4.5 million monetary settlement, ICM agreed to establish an independent panel to examine its representation practices. The agency also agreed to take part in a "job relief" program designed to promote the top 25 percent of older TV writers based on script evaluations by neutral experts.
"What we're trying to do is factor age out of decision-making" in hiring and representation practices by entertainment companies, Sprenger said
Representatives of ICM, which like other defendants had maintained the lawsuits were without merit, declined to comment on the settlement.
But in the consent decree accompanying the settlement, ICM makes no admission of liability or wrongdoing. The bulk of ICM's monetary damages will be assumed by insurers.
Announcement of the settlement comes less than a week after a California appeals court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, giving them access to data "they needed to prove their case," Sprenger told Reuters.
He said legal wrangling over that information had held up progress in the case for about four years.
The lawsuits allege that networks and studios, in their pursuit of younger viewers and higher advertising revenues, stereotyped older writers as unable to discern the tastes of their target audiences.
Talent agencies contributed to this pattern of discrimination, the suits say, by refusing to represent or refer older writers for work at the studios.
Settlement terms in the ICM case are subject to approval of a judge, who will review the accord at a hearing later this year, Sprenger said.
Other companies named as defendants in the suits include major U.S. networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, about a dozen production companies and various corporate parents such as Walt Disney Co and Warner Bros.