4:15pm PT by Eriq Gardner
'Biggest Loser' Star Headed to Trial Over Meaning of 'Fitness'
What it means to be fit is an age-old question that changes with the cultural currents. The question, though, is going to be examined in a federal trial in a Florida courtroom soon thanks to a novel dispute involving The Biggest Loser season-seven contestant Tara Costa, who became a breakout star after amazing feats like pulling a two-ton car.
When she finished that season in second place after losing 155 pounds, she assigned her publicity rights to The Champions Fund (TCF). In turn, that company made a promotional deal with FC Online Marketing Inc., which owns ILoveKickboxing.com.
In July 2013, FC Online sued Costa and TCF for allegedly breaching a contract, and while the claims that made Costa a direct party to this litigation settled, the dispute between FC Online and TCF continued. Earlier this week, a federal judge made a ruling that now sets up a trial that would likely feature Costa as the star witness talking about her conditioning.
In the contract, there was a provision titled "Talent Responsibility," which the parties refer to as the fitness clause. Costa agreed she would maintain her current level of fitness and conditioning, though that was hardly spelled out.
FC Online alleges that Costa gained about 45 pounds and thus breached that clause. But Costa has apparently participated in triathlons since her Biggest Loser season aired, so she obviously believes she maintained fitness appropriately.
In his ruling this week, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore looks to Merriam-Webster's definition of fitness as being "the quality or state of being fit" and unfortunately comes away without much guidance on the issue. The judge acknowledges that conditioning includes "exercise, diet and rest" by definition with no mention of weight. He also writes, "Considering that Costa's fame arose from losing a substantial amount of weight on The Biggest Loser, however, it would be reasonable to read 'fitness and conditioning' as encompassing Costa's weight."
Still, he can't be sure what the parties were agreeing to when they made that fitness clause. Judge Whittemore writes, "A review of the extrinsic evidence provided by the parties in support of their respective positions reveals that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the parties intended that the Foundation Contract required Costa to maintain her weight."
There's more to the lawsuit than a few pounds.
The plaintiff believes that there were other breaches of the contract, such as Costa failing to collaborate on social media posts and failing to make sufficient promotional appearances.
On the flip side, FC Online is facing counterclaims for violating her publicity rights by exploiting her name and image without compensation.
The judge has largely denied summary judgment motions from both sides, so unless a settlement happens, it'll be in a jury's hands to balance the scales of justice.