UPDATE, 5:08 PM: Two days after NBCUniversal settled a potential class action lawsuit by former Saturday Night Live interns for $6.4 million, ICM Partners has moved one step closer to possibly resolving its own labor issue. As expected, the agency and representatives for ex-interns Kimberly Behzadi and Jason Rindenau have agreed to mediation, now scheduled for December 15.
ICM Partners attorney Steven Herd said in a letter from both sides sent to U.S. District Court Judge Lorna Schofield on Thursday that the mediation will be before Dina Jansenson of the dispute-resolution firm JAMS. Schofield said she wants to know the result of the mediation by January 6 – so it looks like people will be working over the holidays.
Hurd’s letter also asked for ICM’s motions of dismissal and others to be stayed during the mediation process. Additionally, it requested the discovery process be stated as well. Schofield said yes to the former and no to the latter (read it here).
Will we see a checkbook repeat of the NBCU situation? Well, the beginning of mediation is long, long way from that – though it should be noted that the firm repping the ex-ICM interns is Outten & Golden. That’s the same firm that repped ex-Saturday Night Live intern Monet Eliastam and others against the Comcast-owned company to a likely nearly $1.2 million payout for their efforts.
Outten & Golden also is working on the ongoing case of the ex-Black Swan interns and their battle with Fox Searchlight. That suit really started the round of such actions that have hit the media industry in the past two years.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, SEPTEMBER 30 PM: The high-pitched legal drama over the potential class-action lawsuit against ICM Partners by two former interns seems to have paused for a breath. “The parties agreed to explore early resolution with a private mediator,” says a case management plan submitted earlier this week by the lawyers for agency and the attorneys for ex-interns Kimberly Behzadi and Jason Rindenau. “The parties will endeavor to schedule the mediation to take place within the next 60 days,” the filing signed by U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield on September 29 adds (read it here). Noting that the “parties had a preliminary discussion about the exchange of information in advance of mediation with a private mediator,” the two sides will “file a status letter advising the Court when a mediator has been retained and an additional status letter at the close of mediation.”
While this is neither the dismissal nor the arbitration that ICM has been dually seeking in the case, it definitely lowers the temperature on what was turning into a hot drilling into the real role and duties of interns in Hollywood. Then again, the case management plan does offer provisions if nothing come of mediation. While no trial date is on the table yet, the plan does peg this case as a jury trial and offer clear dates for the process of discovery and more both this year and in 2015. The plan estimates the trial would last three weeks.
Regardless if it ends up there or not, the gist of the case is that Behzadi and Rindenau allege that while they respectively were at the ICM offices in NYC and LA in early 2012 and mid-2011 they did the jobs and duties of paid employees. Similar to the ongoing case of the ex-Black Swan interns and their ongoing battle with Fox Searchlight, the ex-ICM interns claim that did not receive instruction of an educational nature as designated by the intern program but instead prepared coverage reports, handled expense reports, answered phones and maintained calendars for agents.
Following a rash of intern lawsuits hitting the industry over the past two years, Behzadi filed her case on June 17 with Rindenau joining in an amended complaint on August 15. Just over a week later, the two applied to have the case reclassified to a class action suit – which could encompass hundreds of former ICM interns.
The agency tried to have the initial complaint and the amended one dismissed. In the first case, they cited an arbitration clause that Behzadi refuted as not applicable to claims out of the internship. In the case of the amended complaint, the agency in its September 5 motion to dismiss that action cited that because the amended complaint was filed on August 15, more than three years had passed since Rindenau’s May 23-August 5, 2011 internship the statute of limitations apply. Needless to say the plaintiffs disagreed and on September 19 called the motion “premature” without even the process of discovery having began.
Now just over a week later the two sides are trying to find a way to talk. If successful, this could be over before the end of the year. If not, expect around 21 days in court next year.
Rachel Bien, Justin Swartz and Sally Abrahamson of the labor-issues firm Outten & Golden are representing the interns. It should be noted that Bien and the firm are involved in the Black Swan suit and that Swartz also is handing legal duties on a class action launched against NBCUniversal by a former MSNBC intern and an ex-Saturday Night Live intern. Elise Michelle Bloom and Steven Hurd of Proskauer Rose’s NYC office and Michelle Annese of the firm’s Newark office represent ICM Partners.