Hollywood Docket: Netflix Fights Viacom Probe Into Employees' Pay

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Netflix is fighting to keep secret the salaries of four employees who left Viacom to work for the streamer amid a lawsuit that accuses the company of illegally poaching workers who were under contract. 

In October 2018, Viacom sued Netflix, claiming it interfered in Momita SenGupta's fixed-term employment contract when it hired her before the end of the agreement. On May 26, Netflix filed a summary judgment motion arguing that it couldn't have interfered because the contract was unenforceable.

In a Feb. 28 motion to compel, Viacom asked the court to make Netflix share how much the streamer is paying four other employees who jumped ship. The company argues the figures will demonstrate the employees' market value and the difference between the two salaries is necessary to to calculate the damages attached to its unfair competition claim. 

In its opposition filed Tuesday, Netflix says their salaries are irrelevant. 

"Although Viacom’s claims arise exclusively from Ms. SenGupta’s departure, Viacom now seeks to compel Netflix to disclose the private compensation information of four other employees who left Viacom to join Netflix," writes attorney Karen Johnson-McKewan. "Viacom’s complaint does not, however, even mention these individuals, and Viacom’s verified interrogatory answers do not allege that it suffered any harm from their departures."

Netflix says it isn't buying Viacom's argument that what it pays its employees could translate to damages — and if Netflix does pay them more that merely "underscores that Viacom underpaid them" and speaks to why they may have wanted to leave.

"Viacom posits that it can measure the 'value' it loses when under-contract employees leave early by calculating the difference between its departed employees’ below-market compensation at Viacom and the sum Netflix pays those same people," writes Johnson-McKewan. "However, what Netflix chooses to pay its own employees has no bearing on Viacom’s harm, and Viacom cites no authority suggesting otherwise. ... Viacom’s employees are not its 'property,' and Viacom cites no authority supporting its argument that it can show harm or standing through losing 'the value' of an employee."

Further, Netflix argues disclosing their salaries would violate their financial privacy rights, which Viacom argues could be avoided with a protective order.

A hearing is currently set for June 22.

In other entertainment legal news: 

—  Amber Heard's makeup artist will have to testify live via a satellite video feed in the U.K. defamation trial between Johnny Depp and The Sun publisher News Group Newspapers, a California federal judge has ruled. Depp is suing the publisher for defamation over an April 2018 article that questioned whether J.K. Rowling could be "genuinely happy" with his casting in the Fantastic Beasts franchise amid allegations that he abused Heard. The actor maintains his innocence and claims it's Heard who was abusive. 

Mélanie Inglessis asked the court to quash an order for her testimony, citing concerns about both the novel coronavirus pandemic and online harassment. U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Walsh on Wednesday denied the makeup artist's request and noted that because of the pandemic the room and exhibits will be sanitized immediately before her testimony and the people allowed in the room will be limited to one attorney per side and IT personnel if necessary. Trial is set to begin July 7 and Inglessis is expected to testify sometime between July 17 and July 28. 

— Volvo is facing a lawsuit from an automative photographer and model who say their images from a test-shoot amid the California wildflowers were used in an ad campaign without permission. Jack Schroeder took more than a thousand images of Britni Sumida with a Volvo S60 in April 2019 and posted some of them on Instagram. Volvo commented and asked for permission to use them in its advertising, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in California federal court by attorney Jeffrey S. Gluck, and Schroeder responded via email that he doesn't license his work for free and sent them a link to his personal site in hopes they'd offer to purchase his images. Volvo didn't respond, but six months later Schroder discovered the car company had turned nine of his photos into an ad campaign.

To further complicate matters, Sumida was hired to star in a campaign for another car company and her contract bars her from working for its competitors. The photographer also alleges that after multiple cease and desist letters Volvo removed the images from its social media sites — but then sent a letter to a video production company he sometimes works with threatening to sue over a 20 second video taken during the test shoot. Schroeder is suing for copyright infringement and Sumida is suing for unfair competition, false endorsement and misappropriation of likeness. Volvo declined to comment.

— In addition to requiring all entrants to wear masks until further notice, which went into effect on June 5, L.A. County Superior Courts on Friday announced additional social distancing measures. Under the most recent order, access to the county courthouses "is restricted at all times to judicial officers, court staff, co-lessees, Judicial Council staff, vendors, jurors, authorized persons (which includes news reporters and news media representatives), attorneys, litigants and witnesses with matters on calendars or individuals with confirmed appointments." Access to courtroom proceedings will be limited to observe social distancing and courtroom capacity will be determined by the presiding judicial officer. The announcement also detailed the phased reopening plans, which include the clerk's office reopening on June 15 and additional departments opening on June 22. More coronavirus-related information is available on a section of the court's website dubbed Here for You | Safe for You, and the most recent release is posted below.