Writers get data for ageism lawsuit

Statistics could bolster allegations, lead attorney says

A California Court of Appeals ruling has given a group of TV writers vital new ammunition in their 8-year-old age discrimination lawsuit against various studios, networks, agencies and production companies.

In a 30-plus page decision issued Thursday, the three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in favor of allowing the writers access to information that includes demographic data (name, date of birth, gender, race and ZIP code) and work history (employer, production, credits, job title, period of employment, part-time or full-time status, awards, talent agency rep and time with an agency).

Armed with the information, the plaintiffs -- veteran TV writers who claimed in 2000 that they were not hired for various shows because of their age -- could put together statistics that might bolster their allegations, said one of their lead attorneys, Steven Sprenger of the Washington class-action law firm Sprenger & Lang.

"It's a significant ruling for class-action cases," he said. "The statistics are critical to the claims."

At least one of the defendants, ICM, might be entering into a settlement as a result of the appeals court decision, according to a source close to the case. ICM declined comment.

The defendants argued that access to the information would violate writers' privacy. The plaintiffs had requested information on about 47,000 writers; of those, 7,700 objected to their private information being turned over.

The appeal justices found that there is a compelling need for the information the writers seek and that private information, such as Social Security numbers and personnel notes, could be redacted before being turned over to the plaintiffs.

The data "would be directly relevant to proving intentional discrimination," wrote Justice Candace Cooper, who was joined in her decision by Justice Victoria Chavez. Justice Patricia Bigelow dissented, siding with the earlier trial court's decision.

"There is no question there is a significant state interest in preventing invidious discrimination, as the majority states," Bigelow wrote. "But under these facts, and in light of the information available to plaintiffs from the non-objectors, the trial court could reasonably conclude the right to privacy asserted by the 7,700 nonparty objectors outweighs the plaintiff's need for their confidential information."