writer2It was just announced that 17 major television networks and studios and 7 talent agencies today settled 19 of the 23 class action lawsuits filed in 2002 alleging intentional and unintentional age discrimination in the selection and representation of older television writers. The amount of the settlement is $70 million — the largest-ever settlement in the history of age discrimination litigation. (Today’s settlement, along with the 2 cases that were settled earlier this year for $4.5 millioncluding interest.) All but one of the cases now ends for the Television Writers Age Discrimination Litigation, which named 51 defendants, including the major TV networks, production companies and eleven talent agencies. The lone holdout is the litigation still against Creative Artists Agency (CAA).

The announcement is being made jointly by the defendants and Paul Sprenger of Washington DC’s Sprenger + Lang, who was lead counsel for the 165 named plaintiffs and the settlement classes. Here’s more:

The settlement is subject to final approval by the California Superior Court in and for the County of Los Angeles.

The defendants strongly deny the plaintiffs’ allegations and state that their hiring and/or representation practices fully comply with the law and reflect their commitment to equal employment opportunity. They also note that they all have long-standing anti-discrimination policies and regularly employ or represent substantial numbers of writers over the age of forty.

The parties have been litigating these claims for almost ten years, including several appeals to the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. The defendant networks and production companies (including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The WB, UPN, Columbia TriStar Television, Inc., DW SKG TV L.L.C., Universal Media Studios, Regency Television, Spelling Television, The Carsey-Werner Company LLC, Touchstone Television, Twentieth Century Fox Television, and Warner Bros. Television) and the defendant talent agencies (APA, The Endeavor Agency, The Gersh Agency, Paradigm Talent & Literary Agency, Shapiro-Lichtman, UTA, and the William Morris Agency LLC) have agreed, subject to court approval, collectively to pay a total of $70 million to settle all claims against them and their affiliated companies, including class members’ alleged damages, costs and attorneys’ fees. Approximately $2.5 million of this total settlement amount will be used to create a Fund for the Future, which will issue grants and loans to settlement class members to further their writing careers and study ways to supplement their pensions and improve access to medical insurance.

Approximately two-thirds of the $70 million settlement payment will be paid by insurance carriers.

The settlement provides a process for settlement class members to apply for an allocated cash distribution from the settlement fund. The Fund for the Future, which will be governed by a board composed of settlement class members, will issue grants and loans for approved projects on a competitive basis.

“I speak for all class counsel in recommending that all settlement class members accept the settlement. We are honored to represent a distinguished and talented group of clients and class members,” stated Sprenger. Plaintiffs and the settlement classes were also represented by, among others, the law firms of Sprenger & Lang, PLLC, Kator Parks & Weiser, PLLC, Law Office of Daniel Wolf, Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers LLP, the AARP Foundation Litigation, Katz, Marshall & Banks, and Blecher & Collins.

“We were fully prepared to oppose class certification and would have prevailed at trial if necessary,” said Seth E. Pierce, of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, Defendants’ Liaison Counsel. “But with years of disruptive litigation remaining, and all networks and major television studios and talent agencies participating in the settlement, it made sense to bring these protracted cases to a close.” For more information about this settlement, please visit the Claims Administrator website at http://www.TVWritersSettlementAdmin.com or Plaintiffs’ litigation website http://www.TVWritersCounsel.com.

The AARP Foundation Litigation issued this statement (edited):

Today’s settlement vindicates the tireless efforts of AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) attorneys who have labored for eight years since signing on as co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the then one year old litigation. Along with the work of their co-counsel, the litigation work of AARP attorneys also is validated by the size of this settlement. AFL will continue to participate in the case against Creative Artists.

And the settlement is a bright spot at a time when older workers are being buffeted by negative cross-currents of a sort they have not faced in many years. The importance of the settlement cannot be overestimated, given the fact that television shows – even in this era of multiple entertainment platforms – remain crucial in shaping our culture. Television greatly influences the public’s perceptions and, yes, sometimes feeds unfortunate stereotypes about different groups in society. Writers obviously play a key role in developing themes for those programs; age — and other forms of diversity — obviously are a real plus in the hiring of those writers.

Today’s settlement comes in the midst of tough economic conditions for workers of all age groups, but the fact is that older workers face special obstacles. On the general employment front, the unemployment rate for persons aged 55 and over is now well above what it has been for most of the past six decades. As of November, average duration of unemployment for those 55 and over was about four months longer than it was when the recession started in 2007.

At the same time, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reported a significant uptick in the number of age discrimination complaints. The latest figures show that for the 2008 fiscal year, 24,582 charges of age discrimination were filed with the agency, almost a 29 per cent increase over the 19,103 age discrimination charges filed in the 2007 fiscal year and by far the largest number of such charges filed over the past ten years.

And the general pervasiveness of age discrimination was shown by an AARP national study within the past year that found that 60 percent of those surveyed aged 45 to 74 said that they had personally faced or observed age discrimination in the workplace.

While AARP is gratified by the settlement announced today, these numbers serve to underscore the need for continued vigilance and advocacy for the rights of older workers. AARP remains dedicated to ending age discrimination in all its forms.