UPDATE, 12:45 PM: The Screen Actors Guild issued a response saying, in part: “We believe that this suit is completely without merit and we will vigorously defend all claims in court. We are confident that our actions are appropriate and consistent with the law and our own rules of procedure.” Full statement posted below.
BREAKING… EXCLUSIVE 11 AM: (Click here for .pdf of lawsuit) A number of Screen Actors Guild members filed a lawsuit today asking the court for a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop SAG from calling for a vote on the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger. The suit claims that the SAG Board has breached its fiduciary duties to conduct an actuarial impact study detailing the effects of the proposed merger on SAG membership pension and health benefits. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California.
The members filing suit are: Martin Sheen, Edward Asner, Ed Harris, Valerie Harper, Clancy Brown, James Remar, George Coe, Diane Ladd, Lainie Kazan, Nichelle Nichols, Renee Aubry, Jane Austin, Erick Avari, Steve Barr, Sara Barrett, Terrance Beason, Michael Bell, Warren Berlinger, Joe Bologna, Ralph Brennen, Alexandra Castro, Jude Ciccolella, Cynthia Lea Clark, David Clennon, Joe D’Angerio, Patricia D’Arbanville, Dick Gautier, Dorothy Goulah, Marty Grey, Sumi Haru, Angel Harper, Basil Hoffman, David Huddleston, Anne-Marie Johnson, David Jolliffe, Kerrie Keane, Peter Kwong, Kurt Lott, Barbara Luna, Eric Lutes, Stephen Mach, Michael McConnohie, Peter Antico, Susan McNabb, Phyllis Timbes, Marguerite Moreau, Traci Murray, Nicole Mandich, Larry Newman, Barbara Niven, Kathleen Nolan, Jack Ong, Peggy Lane O’Rourke, Leslie Parrish, Scott Pierce, Robin Riker, Stephanie Rose, Alan Rosenberg, Alan Ruck, Wendy Schaal, Tascha Schaal, Nancy Sinatra, Cynthia Steele, Renee Taylor, Malachi Throne, Beverly Todd, Jessica Wright, Momo Yashimo.
They are suing the Screen Actors Guild, SAG Executive Director David White, SAG President Ken Howard, Amy Aquino, Ned Vaughn, Mike Hodge, David Hartley-Margolin and others.
“We have spent almost two months negotiating with SAG in an effort to get them to present the truth regarding this merger plan. Member are entitled to full disclosure, not half truths and misleading and unsupported promises” the plaintiffs’ attorney David B. Casselman of the Los Angeles law firm Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten, LLP said in a statement today.
“They have done nothing of substance to support their claims that the proposed merger will protect SAG member benefits. The average SAG member makes less than $10,000 per year. They need to know that all necessary due diligence was done to protect them.”
Since Sept. 15, 1981, the SAG Constitution has recognized that careful study of any SAG-AFTRA merger plan would be necessary “to satisfy the requirements of law and the protection of all eligible members against the loss of benefits, presently or in the future (Appendix 1).
The SAG board voted on Jan. 28, 2012 to approve the proposed merger plan and to submit it to a vote of the membership. On Jan. 29, 2012, the presidents of SAG and AFTRA announced on national television at the SAG Awards that the “historic step” of merger was about to be realized.
“We believe the defendants made this announcement in order to thoroughly saturate the media with pro-merger propaganda, avoiding any balancing information which would allow SAG members to intelligently evaluate the issues prior to voting,” says Casselman.
“If an uninformed membership approves this merger, and then we all learn that it will have crippling, negative effects, it will be too late for anything to be done to return SAG or its current pension and health plans back to their current status,” says Casselman.
In response to the lawsuit, the Screen Actors Guild released the following statement:
“We believe that this suit is completely without merit and we will vigorously defend all claims in court. We are confident that our actions are appropriate and consistent with the law and our own rules of procedure.
“Any suggestion that the members have not been fully and fairly informed is preposterous. We have scheduled more than 50 informational meetings across the country, have posted all of the merger documents on the website for over 4 weeks, and we have afforded the merger opponents the right to send an opposition statement at the unions’ expense as part of the referendum package.
“This lawsuit is a clear attempt at circumventing the will of the membership. It is disappointing that this group seems dedicated to preventing their fellow members from exercising their democratic right to vote on their futures through the union’s fair and established referendum process which is already underway. This filing is simply a public relations stunt that follows a clear pattern by some of the plaintiffs of filing unsuccessful lawsuits against their own union. We do not believe that the members will be fooled.”