Ex-Reality Show Workers Sue Production Company
By EDWARD WYATT
LOS ANGELES – Three former employees of reality television shows, including «American Idol,» claim in a lawsuit filed here Thursday that the producer forced them to work under «sweatshop» conditions and failed to pay for overtime hours they worked.
The employees say they were forced by the producer, Fremantle North America, to work up to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes without meal and rest periods, and that Fremantle falsified payroll records.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks class-action status for all employees who worked in various job classifications – including field producer, segment producer, talent coordinator, music coordinator and others – for Fremantle and its related production companies.
A spokesman for Fremantle North America said in an e-mail message that the company did not comment on pending litigation.
Among the plaintiffs are Melody Murray, who worked in Los Angeles last year as a segment producer on «Osbournes: Reloaded,» a reality series scheduled to be broadcast beginning March 31 on Fox.
Ms. Murray also worked as a talent coordinator on the television series «Thank God You’re Here,» an improvisational sketch comedy show that appeared in 2007 on NBC, and as an associate producer on «Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency,» which was on the Oxygen cable channel beginning in 2006.
Another plaintiff, Aaron Silberman, who now resides in Arizona, worked as a music coordinator on «American Idol» from December 2006 through January 2008, according to the complaint. «American Idol» has for several years been the most-watched series on television.
The third plaintiff, Rosemarie DiSalvo, worked as a producer in 2007 on «Temptation,» a syndicated game show.
Reality television production companies have been the subject of similar complaints previously as well as efforts by television unions, including the Writers Guild of America, West, to organize people who work in various producer categories. Generally, those employees are not represented by a collective bargaining unit.
In January, three of the four major networks and several reality show production companies paid a $4 million settlement in two similar class actions. Those lawsuits also alleged that the companies, which produced shows like «The Bachelor» and «Trading Spouses,» violated wage and hour laws.
The new lawsuit accuses Fremantle and several related companies, including American Idol Productions, Blue Orbit Productions, Kickoff Productions and Little Pond Television, of trying to disguise violations of federal labor law by paying employees for a 12-hour day and a 60-hour week.
But the former employees claim that they worked much more than that and that the companies failed to keep accurate time records. The lawsuit also states that the employees were instructed to write «worked» on their time cards rather than record the actual hours worked.