Fox Hit With ‘Empire’ Class Action Suit Over Filming At Juvenile Detention Center

With the Season 3 debut of Empire just weeks away, the first two episodes of the Fox blockbuster’s second season today are at the center of a potential big-bucks class action lawsuit filed over filming at a Chicago juvenile detention center that left hundreds of underage inmates in “lockdown.”

“The Fox Defendants deliberately encouraged the Government Defendants to
improperly place the JTDC on lockdown during the filming of Empire, for commercial benefit,” says the wide-ranging lawsuit (read it here) from two now-former residents of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

Twentieth Century Fox Television, Inc, Fox Broadcasting Company, Inc., Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., Fox Entertainment Group, Inc., Fox Networks Group, Inc. and Fox Television Group are all named as defendants along with Cook County, the center’s superintendent Leonard Dixon, and unnamed others. Fox did not respond Wednesday to request for comment on the damages-seeking lawsuit.

According to the jury-seeking action by two teens going by T.S, and Q.B., the Illinois facility was used on three occasions in the summer of 2015 for filming of scenes featuring Terrence Howard’s Lucious Lyon character behind bars. Chris Rock was also part of the shoots that took place June 21-26, July 13-16 and August 23-26 last year at the center that was once federally run. That S2 filming over large portions of the center and involving much of its staff resulted in the hundreds of children there unable to attend school, have significant family visits and use its “only outdoor recreation yard, its library, and its chapel.”

“The actions, omissions, and conduct of the Defendants as set forth in this complaint were extreme and outrageous,” the filing adds. It also notes that while residents were in “psychologically damaging” situations of being kept in their cells or crammed into a dayroom with nothing to do, Empire was filming episodes that would earn it “$750,000 per 30-second advertising spot in Episode 1, and $600,000 per 30-second spot in Episode 2.” As a part of the relief, the plaintiffs are seeking — for themselves and up to 400 other class members — those profits Fox made from the filming of the much-watched September 23 and 30, 2015 episodes that took place at the center.

“These actions were rooted in an abuse of power and authority and were undertaken with the intent to cause, or were in reckless disregard of the probability that their conduct would cause, severe emotional distress to the children housed at the JTDC,” the 37-page suit claims.

This is one of a number of suits Empire is dealing with currently. Just last week, a federal judge rejected a motion by Fox, Empire co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and others to dismiss Sophia Eggleton’s case that the Taraji P. Henson-portrayed Cookie Lyon is based on Eggleton and her 2009 memoir. Then there is the action by Howard’s former managers over unpaid Empire commissions they say the Oscar-nominated actor owes them – especially after they stopped him from being fired from the show.

Stephen Weil, Pamela Hanebutt and Susan Razzano of Chicago firm Eimer Stahl LLP are representing T.S., Q.B, and their respective guardians in the matter.

Season 3 of Empire debuts on September 21 on Fox.

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