ICM smooths out age wrinkle

Agency to pay $4.5 mil as the first to settle writers' discrimination suit

ICM has agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle an 8-year-old class-action discrimination lawsuit filed by TV writers who claim they were squeezed out of jobs because of their age.

Attorneys for the writers said ICM is the first to settle the case, which includes "programmatic relief designed to enhance work opportunities."

ICM declined comment on the settlement.

The ICM case is among 23 filed by the writers against agencies, networks and production companies. They claimed that more than 150 writers ages 40 and older since 1996 were allegedly subjected to systematic age discrimination by agents. The plaintiffs claimed agents aided and abetted networks and studios in the discrimination by refusing to rep them or refer older writers to production studios.

"The settlement agreement with ICM provides these talented television writers with a fair resolution to their claims," said the writers' attorney, Steve Sprenger of the Washington class-action firm Sprenger+ Lang. "However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us to get these older writers the programmatic and monetary relief they deserve."

While most of the defendants are engaged in mediation with the plaintiffs, it's unclear whether the settlement with ICM will lay the groundwork for other settlements to follow. ICM is paying its settlement through insurance, a support system that many of the other defendants do not have.

"I'm not sure this ICM settlement is going to make an impact," said entertainment labor attorney Scott Witlin of Los Angeles' Akin Gump. "It will impact people in the agency pool as opposed to people in the networks or production companies.

"The agencies have the most difficult positions because they are, in many ways, the gatekeepers of these jobs. The agents need to explain why they're not taking on clients in that demographic."

The settlement comes on the heels of a California appellate court decision last week that opened the doors to demographic data and work history for writers. Armed with that information, the plaintiffs can put together statistics that might bolster their allegations.

ICM was not a party to the appeals case and had been working on a settlement with the writers for months before the appellate court decision.

That decision, which the justices split 2-1, could also be appealed to the state Supreme Court for review.

"What the court of appeal decision will do, if it stands, is increase the cost of litigation," Witlin said. "The burden of discovery and this kind of discovery will be enormous, and it drives up the cost of litigation, which can drive people to make a rational decision to settle rather than litigation on principle."

Members of the class of writers, estimated at 10,000, will receive notices of the settlement. A hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emile Elias to consider the settlement will take place later this year.

The ICM agreement also establishes a task force to focus on representation practices, which will make private recommendations that are not public.
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