In early February, Payton Employment Law, PC filed a lawsuit against ABC and the production companies behind American Idol, one of the longest-running singing competition shows on U.S. television. The lawsuit alleges that former contestant, Normandy Vamos, was treated like an employee by the producers and was deprived of compensation. The proposed class action was filed on behalf of Ms. Vamos and other unpaid or underpaid performers for Idol over the past four years. The filing further alleges that producers required these workers, the class members in Ms. Vamos’ case, to work as so-called “volunteers,” and paid them absolutely nothing and that under California law, these individuals should have been compensated as employees.
The lawsuit, in which Payton Employment Law, PC represents Normandy Vamos, has been featured in over a dozen media outlets, raising attention to worker rights in the reality TV industry, including Fox News, the NY Post, the Daily Mail, Insider, Law 360, The US Sun, Radar Online, Country Music Nation, Business Insurance, Yahoo News, MJSBIGBLOG, FOX 21, MassLive, Daily Voice Baltimore, iHeartRadio and Metro UK. Take a look at some of the top articles:
According to the lawsuit, producers invited Ms. Vamos and scores of other performers to stay at a Los Angeles hotel in fall 2021 to “audition” for the chance to advance to the “Hollywood Week” portion of the show. The contestants had already gone through earlier rounds of auditions or call-backs, and by the time they arrived at the hotel they should, under California law, have been compensated as employees because their performances had the potential to air on American Idol.
American Idol and the production team expected contestants to remain at the hotel and be available, often for 15 hours a day, and directed where they went, what they did, and maintained that they could secretly record them at any time. They also failed to provide the participants with adequate meal and rest breaks, allowing them a mere 15 minutes per day for “lunch,” which was usually the only time that they were permitted to leave the hotel in a 24-hour period.
“Reality TV isn’t always real. There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes,” Ms. Vamos said in Fox News. “Myself and hundreds of people worked about a week with no pay. I think a lot of reality TV participants aren’t aware that they have rights.”
Furthermore, the lawsuit states that Ms. Vamos and other contestants were required to sign “work-for-hire” contracts assigning copyright and licenses arising from their performances to the Defendants, but at the same time the Defendants made the contestants sign paperwork declaring they were not employees. The arrangement violated California Labor Code because the show’s producers forced individuals to work on a volunteer basis.
“Many reality TV stars are being exploited, but are fearful of facing professional and personal repercussions for speaking out. We’re excited to be representing individuals like Normandy and we’re hopeful that this lawsuit will help change ‘American Idol’ and the reality TV industry for the better,” said Ms. Payton, as quoted in Law360.
Payton Employment Law, PC is proud to represent Ms. Vamos and the putative class, and to continue the discourse about reality TV workers’ rights and the wage violations many TV stars suffer. Last summer, the Firm brought a proposed wage and hour class action lawsuit against Netflix and the producers of the reality show “Love Is Blind.” That case, brought on behalf of lead plaintiff Jeremy Hartwell who appeared on the show, is still pending in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
The Firm handles all kinds of employment cases, including those that come from an employer’s discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, unpaid wages, overtime, commissions, failure to provide legally compliant breaks, and other violations of the California Labor Code. Additionally, the Firm handles Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) cases in which violations of the California Labor Code are widespread and affect multiple employees.
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