Settlements reached in reality TV labor suits

Wed Jan 21, 2009 8:33pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Several major U.S. TV networks and the producers of such reality shows as "Trading Spouses" and "The Bachelor" have agreed to pay over $4 million to settle two lawsuits claiming violations of California wage rules.

The settlement will benefit more than 400 workers who were part of the 3-year-old class-action cases, and some of those individuals stand to reap tens of thousands of dollars, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Emma Leheny, said on Wednesday.

In addition to "Trading Spouses" and "The Bachelor," the shows covered by the suits included "The Will," "Are You Hot?", "Joe Millionaire" and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance."

The litigation coincided with a broader ongoing effort by the Writers Guild of America to obtain a labor contract for the creative workers behind unscripted TV productions as a whole, such as "American Idol" and "Survivor."

Some of those programs rank among the biggest hits on U.S. television and are far cheaper to produce than traditional prime-time dramas and sitcoms.

The suits claimed reality show employees routinely put in as much as 80 hours a week without overtime, were denied work breaks for meals and were forced to falsify their time cards, all in violation of state wage and hour laws.

"We really found pervasive violations," Leheny told Reuters. "It seems to be a system based on the underpayment of workers in an industry where employers are looking to save money and speed up production, create very profitable shows, and the people who are shortchanged are these employees."

A spokeswoman for lawyers representing the defendant companies declined comment. Defendants included the networks CBS, ABC and Fox, and the production companies Rocket Science Laboratories and Next Entertainment.   Continued...