Hollywood Docket: Settlement in Antitrust Lawsuit Over Broadway Casting

A legal news roundup including a coming trial against ESPN, a settlement by CBS and a new Supreme Court case about copyright lawsuit standards.
Joan Marcus
'Hamilton' on Broadway

After extensive mediation, Broadway producers and theater owners have come to a settlement with top casting companies.

Last December, after some of the theatrical industry's top casting directors looked to unionize in a bid for more health and pension benefits, the Broadway League responded with an antitrust lawsuit over the way that casting companies had banded together in solidarity. According to the complaint, the defendants controlled more than 70 percent of the market for Broadway shows and were boycotting any show that would not submit to a 29 percent surcharge on negotiated fees.

"Rather than admitting that the casting companies were seeking to enhance their own profits through the elimination of competition, they needed to reframe the issue as a feigned concern over health and retirement benefits," continues the complaint.

The litigation didn't get far as the parties began negotiating with each other. No answer nor dispositive motion was ever filed until the parties stipulated to voluntary dismissal on Wednesday. The court papers indicate a settlement, although the terms haven't been made public with the parties not responding immediately for a request for information about the outcome.

We'll update upon further word.

In other legal news:

— Doug Adler will be moving forward in his lawsuit against ESPN after he was taken off the air in the wake of a comment about tennis superstar Venus Williams. Furor erupted when Adler seemingly called Williams a "gorilla," but Adler insists he wasn't making a racially insensitive comment but rather talking about her "guerrilla" style of play. Regardless, in a summary judgment motion, ESPN argued that Adler worked on a freelance basis and he couldn't support a claim for wrongful termination since it held no obligation to use him for matches. At a hearing last week, the judge moved the case to trial. A written decision hasn't yet been issued.

— A New York judge is allowing a putative class action against the owner of the Tidal streaming service and Kanye West. The controversy pertains to a tweet from the hip-hop star who stated that his album, The Life of Pablo, would only be available on Tidal. Six weeks later, the album popped up on other streaming services, which led Justin Baker-Rhett to complain about the $9.99-a-month subscription he had obtained. The judge rejects some of the claims, but rules fraudulent inducement to be plausibly pled. Here's the opinion.

— CBS has settled a lawsuit from former CBS Evening News associate director Erin Gee, who claimed she was passed over for an opportunity to fill in as broadcast director because she's a woman and then retaliated against after making a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. CBS denied the allegations and said in legal papers that the decision to remove Gee from the broadcast was made months before she complained of discrimination as part of restructuring to reduce costs. The parties informed the court of settlement on June 22.

— Also ending is a defamation lawsuit from Stephen Powell, founder of HBO Sports and the first programming chief at ESPN, who sued Harvard University for denying he was a graduate of the Kennedy School. After being sued, Harvard stated that Powell had student debt, that it was entitled to recoup what was owed and that until then, he really wasn't a graduate. The parties stipulated to dismissal on Monday.

— The Supreme Court on Thursday granted review in Fourth Estate Pub. Benefit Corp v. Wall-Street.com, which doesn't involve any entertainment interests but nevertheless figures to make at least some impact on the industry. The core question is whether a copyright plaintiff must register a work before suing or whether an application for registration at the U.S. Copyright Office meets the prerequisite. It often takes many months for the Copyright Office to approve registration, and lower appellate circuits throughout the nation have split on the registration vs. application issue. The U.S. solicitor general recommended the high court take up the case and sides with the more rigorous registration standard. Some worry about the potential prejudice from having to wait long in order to go to court to enforce copyrights.