Pair of IATSE Members File Class Action Lawsuit Against Motion Picture Health Plan

The complaint calls into question the Plan's temporary eligibility changes prompted by the industry shutdown amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

A pair of International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600) members are leading a class action lawsuit filed Thursday in California federal court against the Board of the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan, alleging that it violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by not treating all plan members fairly.

Entertainment industry workers covered by the plan include members of IATSE's 13 Los Angeles locals, the largest being Local 600, Local 700 (Motion Picture Editors Guild) and Local 800 (Art Directors Guild).

To qualify for coverage, members must work 400 hours (or 600 hours for newly-qualifying participants) in a six-month period. According to the complaint, the defendants voted to extend up to 300 hours for April and May to "active participants who are currently enrolled" and whose benefits period ended June 30, "thereby explicitly excluded participants on COBRA or on disability, and excluding participants working toward initial eligibility."

In contrast, members with a qualifying period that ended March 21 were given a credit of 25 hours if they proved that were it not for COVID-19, they would have met the requirement, according to the complaint. "In doing so, defendants applied a more onerous standard to participants whose qualifying period end March 21. ... [Likewise those] who were on track to meet the requirement by April 25." Plaintiffs also allege in the filing that the Board's plan management was unfair in terms of premium waivers for dependents and COBRA coverage. These actions "forced" affected members to either pay for COBRA or other insurance coverage, or go without insurance amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the filing.

According to the complaint, which is posted below, before the production shutdown plaintiffs Greg Endries and Dee Nichols were on track to meet their hours by their March 21 deadline.

Renaker, Hasselman Scott and Kantor & Kantor, attorneys for the plaintiffs, are asking for the 300-hour extension plus retroactive health benefits with a waiver of the premium for dependents "for those that would have qualified for eligibility had they received the extension" (or insurance reimbursement where applicable), as well as the same COBRA subsidies as other plan participants.

Reps for the MPI Health Plan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint.