UPDATED with statement from True Entertainment: New York’s attorney general has reached a settlement with True Entertainment that requires the company to pay $411,000 in restitution to hundreds of employees who did not receive overtime pay despite routinely working well over 40 hours per week. The company, which produces reality shows such as Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, has also agreed to comply with overtime laws in the future.
“My office is committed to enforcing overtime laws, which guarantee hard working New Yorkers extra compensation for putting in long hours, and discourage employers from assigning extremely long workweeks,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “Production workers in the entertainment industry routinely work more than 40 hours per week, and I will do everything in my power to defend their right to overtime pay.”
True Entertainment said in a statement that it has been “a top creator of TV programming for nearly 17 years, and for every one of those years has compensated its employees fairly and competitively, with many employees having worked at True for more than a decade. In fact, True Entertainment employees receive fair and competitive compensation, and benefits including, for example, health insurance and paid time off. In this case, the company classified a small number of people as creative employees, exempt from overtime compensation, under applicable federal and state laws. The New York State Attorney General did not agree; thus, we reached an amicable settlement of the issue with the Attorney General. We greatly value our employees at True Entertainment, and look forward to continuing to focus on creating and producing high quality programming for our network partners.”
An investigation by Schneiderman’s office found that production assistants and associate producers at True Entertainment often worked 50 hours per week, and sometimes as many as 72 hours, and yet did not receive overtime pay as required by law. According to his website office, “True Entertainment paid these workers weekly or daily salaries, with no premiums for hours worked over 40 in a workweek, and without keeping accurate records of hours worked.”
The AG’s office noted that “while there are exemptions from state and federal overtime coverage, including for certain high-level, highly compensated, or professional employees, none of these exemptions applied in the current case. The overtime law focuses not on potentially misleading job titles given by the employer, but rather, on the specific job duties actually performed by employees. The production assistants and assistant producers for True Entertainment had a range of duties, including crowd control, making travel arrangements, obtaining releases from people appearing on camera, and logging footage. Based on their duties, these categories of employees were entitled to be paid overtime.”
The settlement funds will be distributed to production assistants, associate producers, and workers who performed equivalent tasks for True Entertainment. The settlement also requires True Entertainment to analyze the job duties of producers to see if their duties entitle them to overtime. “Additional investigations in the reality TV production industry are ongoing,” according to the AG’s website.
This statement from WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson was also posted on the AG’s website. “The Writers Guild of America, East has been working closely with associate producers and other employees in the nonfiction/reality television sector, and many report working incredibly long hours without extra pay. We are grateful that the attorney general is taking action to ensure that these TV employers follow the law. The union is working with employees to negotiate enforceable contracts that guarantee time and a half pay to associate producers and other overtime-eligible employees for all hours above 40 in a week.”