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On FX’s Louie, comedian Louis C.K. certainly does a lot — producing, writing, directing, starring in and editing the series. The dexterity resulted in a novel battle over whether Louis C.K.’s Pig Newton production company owed health and pension contributions to directors of three union-industry plans. On Thursday, a New York federal judge delivered his 36-page opinion on why C.K. did in fact owe money.
Because Louis C.K. has so many roles, he belongs to multiple unions. Of relevance, he belongs to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which obligates him to make contributions to each of its benefit plans. Collective bargaining agreements spell out hourly rate contributions while trust agreements dictate how those plans are administered.
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Louis C.K. is what is termed a “controlling employee,” who, by virtue of his sole ownership of Pig Newton, has the ability to dictate the number of hours he works.
A few decades ago, the directors of union-industry plans were worried that “controlling employees” might manipulate the hours they worked so as to obtain maximum benefits while paying minimum contributions. There’s no suggestion that Louis C.K. did this, but when Pig Newton failed to pay a couple of seasons for the comedian’s editing work, it raised flags and triggered audits.
Louis C.K. certainly does a lot — but editing is the least of his duties. According to his declaration, editing accounts only for 15 percent of his time spent working on the show. It also only accounts for 8 percent of his total compensation.
His attorneys filed a lawsuit in October 2013 against the boards of the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan, the Motion Picture Industry Individual Account Plan and the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan, seeking a declaratory judgment that he was not required to contribute funds pursuant to “controlling employee” provisions. If money was owed, he contended, it was for contributions for hours actually worked performing editing services.
The directors of the three union-industry plans brought counterclaims and aimed to hold him to a 40-hour-per-week, 50-week-per-year contribution schedule. They also sought liquidated damages.
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U.S. District Judge Katherine Failla doesn’t agree with Pig Newton’s contention that the “controlling employee” provisions are invalid. She said that the plaintiff may be correct that the rules “are broader than necessary to curb perceived manipulation by some controlling employees” but says precedent doesn’t require her “to scrutinize a trust provision as it would a unilateral resolution.”
In her opinion, she went on to reject arguments that the directors lacked the authority to create the “controlling employee” provision, that the directors rewrote the terms of the CBAs and that Louis C.K.’s company never assented to the terms.
“Here, it is indisputable that the Controlling Employee Provisions appeared in the Trust Agreements as of the date that Plaintiff became a party to the CBAs and the Trust Agreements,” she wrote, adding that the significance is that Louis C.K.’s company “cannot claim that the Directors have engaged in any attempts to expand their power to collect contributions after Plaintiff’s execution of the myriad relevant agreements.”
As a result, directors of the three union-industry plans won summary judgment with an analysis forthcoming on what Louis C.K. will have to pay for his lapses.
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