The Prometheus Global Media publication’s dispute with a former freelancer just took on a whole new form – one that could really open the books on the way The Hollywood Reporter does business. In a pivotal hearing on Friday, Judge Jane Johnson issued a ruling certifying a nearly 2-year old case against the company and the trade magazine into a class action that will face a jury in trial.
“The Court grants Plaintiffs’ David Simpson and Michelle Nelson (jointly, ‘Plaintiffs’) motion for class certification of a class of persons who performed work for The Hollywood Reporter (‘THR’) as freelancers for Defendant Prometheus Global Media, LLC (‘Defendant’) during a specified time period,” said the L.A. Superior Court judge in her tentative before the hearing.
That now means that Prometheus and THR will have to face an estimated more than 40 class members who say the mag intentionally played a shell game with their employment status – a situation that was referred to as the defendants’ “illegal common polices and practices” in the original suit. “We are pleased that the Court certified the class of freelancers at The Hollywood Reporter and that we will now have the opportunity to try the merits of whether the class was misclassified as independent contractors and denied the protections and benefits of employees,” attorney Kye Pawlenko of Pasadena’s Hayes Pawlenko LLP told Deadline. The time period covered by the class certification is from January 2010 to the present and is specific to those freelancers who paid by the hour and were provided all the trappings of full time employment such as company emails, office space, company phone numbers and computers.
This was started by longtime THR contributor David Simpson’s filing on September 27, 2013 alleging that freelancers at THR are “indistinguishable from employees in all material respects” and that “the sole purpose of misclassifying freelancers as independent contractors is to deny them benefits and protections afforded to employees.” It’s worth noting that on the THR site back in 2013, freelancer Simpson was referred to as “THR Staff” and an assistant editor. Having been at THR since October 2008 as an online video producer and digital manager, Simpson left the mag in February of this year.
Seeking the class action certification Judge Johnson has now granted, under the California Labor Code, the initial 7-claim complaint sought unspecified financial damages from THR steming from not being paid overtime, delays in getting paid, lack of itemized work statements and of course no benefits. The complaint also sought an injunction requiring THR to “classify their freelancers as employees and provide said employees with coverage under California worker compensation and unemployment benefits.”
An amended complaint was filed in January of this year in the matter. In previous court paperwork, the defendants said that they had reached settlements with 14 of the then potential class members, though that plays no significant role in the certification process according to Judge Johnson. The next stage of the case is a status hearing scheduled for December 3.
Prometheus Global Media is represented in the matter by Nicky Jatana, Benjamin Tulis and Cynthia Emery from the L.A. offices of Jackson Lewis LLP.