SAG Removes Pension & Health Trustee for Alleged Breach of Duties

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Anti-merger activists reportedly complain that Robert Carlson's removal was political retaliation, while those who voted to remove him lay out a detailed bill of particulars.

The Hollywood representatives on SAG’s national board voted Monday night to remove former vice president Robert Carlson as a trustee of the guild’s pension and health plan, sources told The Hollywood Reporter. The action was taken in executive session by an overwhelming voice vote, with many board members citing recent actions by Carlson that they said exposed the P&H plan to liability, breached its confidentiality and impugned the honesty of most of the other guild-appointed trustees.

A small number of board members opposed the decision. The removal is effective immediately. There’s a mandatory 21 day waiting period before a replacement is selected.

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Carlson did not respond to an email requesting comment. In another press report, he’s quoted as saying that he felt he’d been an effective trustee who did his best to serve the participants in the pension and health plans.

Former New York board member Tom Ligon, who remains active in guild affairs, commented that “any one of (the factors cited by board members) is reasonable grounds for dismissal” and that they demonstrated “a willingness (on Carlson’s part) to give his own personal political agenda priority over service to the plan’s participants.”

Trustees serve at the pleasure of the guild’s board. Carlson was a member of the now essentially defunct group, MembershipFirst, that opposed merger, and had run on their slate as a board candidate several times, including in 2004 and 2010.

Sources said that supporters of Carlson argued that he was being removed as political retaliation, but sources said that some who voted to remove Carlson pointed out that they could have done so several years ago had retaliation been the motive, but didn’t.

Instead, the actions that sources say aroused board members’ concerns stem from a declaration Carlson filed in a pending lawsuit against SAG seeking to block merger with AFTRA, and a letter he wrote to an anti-merger website.

In the declaration, Carlson stated that “I understand that SAG has $242,000,000 in reserve to cover senior lifetime health costs while AFTRA has none.” Sources who were in the executive session where the matter was debated told THR that such a statistic was confidential information that had not previously been publicly disclosed, and that Carlson had used his position as a trustee to obtain the data in order to politicize it by using it in the anti-merger lawsuit.

Another source told THR that the source – who was not in the room – had been told by someone who was present that the statistic was actually public. However, THR’s detailed review of the latest federal filing by the health plan reveals no such number. THR searched the document for references to “senior,” “242” and “241” – since a number above $241 million might have been rounded up in the declaration – and found no information specifying what portion of overall health plan assets were allocated to the senior plan.

In the March 5 letter he sent to the website, Carlson said “The Trustees are in the middle of trying to figure out what to do about their longtime CEO, who has been accused by a fired Plan employee of a variety of illegal or improper acts on the job.” At the time, the fired employee, Craig Simmons, had previously filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, and a lawsuit for wrongful termination – which Simmons did file several weeks later – was foreseeable.

In the context of an allegation of illegality, a filed complaint and a foreseeable lawsuit, sources said that board members felt that Carlson has exercised poor judgment and could subject the Plan to liability.

Carlson’s letter also said that “The Guild Trustees [i.e., those appointed by SAG to the board of trustees], with the exception of a very few, in my opinion, are so dedicated to accomplishing the MERGER that they are willing to ignore the truth.” Sources said that board members felt that by publicly impugning many trustees, Carlson made it impossible for himself to work effectively with them in the future.

Finally, sources said that by filing a declaration in a suit against the guild – indeed, also against the officers themselves – Carlson made his continued service at the discretion of the guild untenable.

The P&H plan – more formally known as the Screen Actors Guild - Producers Pension and Health Plans – is a legally separate organization from the guild. It’s governed by a board of trustees comprised of 18 members appointed by the union and 18 by management.

The union-side trustees include members from the Hollywood, New York and regional branch divisions, as well as several staff members – national executive director David White, general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and senior advisor John T. McGuire, a 43-year guild employee. Management trustees include studio and advertising executives, and AMPTP president Carol Lombardini.

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Twitter: @jhandel