Antsy agents file suits

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In a pair of filings cascading in the wake of the Ed Limato case, two agents at Innovative Artists are claiming to be unfairly chained to their jobs and are suing to leave the agency.

Attorneys for Michael McConnell and Ben Press each filed suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, demanding that their clients be freed from employment agreements they claim are unlawful because of one-sided contract guarantees. Both suits name only Innovative Artists as a defendant, but Innovative owner Scott Harris is accused in the suits of demanding overly restrictive agent contracts.

"Mr. Harris forces Innovative's employees and agents to sign one-sided, illegal and unenforceable employment agreements, which he knows violate California law with respect to the right of free enterprise," the McConnell suit states.

"Apparently, Harris is so fearful that agents who leave Innovative will take clients and other agents with them to a new agency that he routinely includes illegal contractual restraints on competition in his employment agreements," according to the Press complaint.

The suits claim that the agents were forced to accept seven-year contracts barring them from working elsewhere, while Innovative could fire them on short notice.

Limato, whose clients have included Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson and Richard Gere, recently took a post at WMA after an arbitrator's Aug. 13 ruling allowed him to bolt ICM. Limato attorney George Hedges said he sees similarities between the latest filings and his client's case.

"In effect, ICM was attempting to keep (Limato) for a period of 10 years by continuing to extend the work agreement," Hedges said. "It was a take-it-or-leave-it situation."

But Press attorney Martin Singer said his client's contract is even more onerous.

"The difference is that under the ICM agreement, they were obligated to continue employing (Limato)," he said. "The contract with Innovative is 100 times worse because Innovative has them sign these long-term deals, but Innovative can terminate them with only four weeks notice.

"This is a contract that we would consider to be unconscionable," the attorney added. "We're not aware of any other agency whose contracts contain that sort of provision."

McConnell's current contract dates from March 2005 and Press' from March 2003. Press' suit alleges that he originally was shown a five-year agreement but was informed it had been changed to seven years only after starting work at the agency.

Both suits seek declaratory relief, legal costs and attorney fees.
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