EXCLUSIVE: Six months ago, Lionsgate wanted the potential class action filed by a former intern on The Wendy Williams Show tossed out of court. Now it wants to go large and pay to make the whole thing go away. To that end, the studio’s attorneys are filing paperwork today in New York federal court stating that they have reached a settlement in the case with Anthony Tart’s lawyers at Virginia & Ambinder, I’ve learned. While there is no dollar figure attached to the proposed agreement, sources tell me is it in the $1 million ballpark.
And the ballpark itself has gotten a bit bigger: As part of the resolution to Tart’s October 1, 2014 complaint seeking a jury trial, Lionsgate and its subsidiary, Wendy Williams Show producers Debmar-Mercury, are taking the rare Hollywood step of expanding the class action as they hope to have it shut it down. Today’s settlement deal won’t just address other former TWWS interns who say they were made to work like full-time employees on the syndicated daytime talker, in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act plus New York’s Minimum Wage Law and Wage Theft Law. Nope, to truly settle this and to seek to head off further similar lawsuits, Lionsgate is now including all former interns of the studio and its subsidiary in the action – which is around 1,800 individuals.
Worked out a couple of weeks ago, the proposal now goes before Judge Alison Nathan for preliminary and eventually final approval later this summer, if class members raise no strenuous objections. As has been the case with past settlements, class members are looking at getting around $550 each. That’s before the lawyers get their usually not insignificant piece of the rock and if all eligible class members participate, which could bring that $1 million figure down.
This mainly done deal from Lionsgate follows the trend in Tinseltown of late to make an agreement on these actions instead of the risks of both sides going deeper down the labor-law mineshaft. In the last month, both NBCUniversal and Viacom have broke settlement bread with ex-interns and taken out their checkbooks. In the latter case, Virginia & Ambinder was one of the firms set to get some of the $900,000 payday from a $7.2 million agreement. A holdout until last winter, Lionsgate was the last studio to shift to paying their interns after a 2013 ruling in the game-changing Black Swan case against Fox Searchlight sent litigation chills through the industry. Now it thinks it has found a way to leave the whole mess behind.
Lionsgate and Debmar-Mercury are represented by Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP lawyers Christopher Parlo, Sam Shaulson and Stephanie Rosel Ross. Alison Genova, LaDonna Lusher and Lloyd Ambinder of NYC’s Virgina & Ambinder LLP are handling things for Tart and the class members, as are Jeffrey Brown and Daniel Markowitz of Leeds Brown Law PC.