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Justice Department pushes back WGA effort to dismiss talent agencies’ lawsuit

WGA
The Department of Justice filed a statement on Tuesday asking the court to proceed with its evaluation of a lawsuit filed by three large talent agencies against the Writers Guild of America. The WGA had asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Attorneys with the Department of Justice’s antitrust division pushed back a request by the Writers Guild of America to dismiss a case filed by three large talent agencies.

Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment sued the WGA this summer, accusing the union of violating antitrust laws by organizing a group boycott when thousands of writers fired their agents after the union and the agencies could not come to an agreement on a new code of conduct.

The WGA argued that the court should dismiss the case because it had not violated the National Labor Relations Act and was acting as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for its members.

But Justice Department attorneys said in court documents that the judge needs to look into the factual disputes in the case before making that determination.

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“The United States urges this court to reject defendants’ argument that it can apply the labor exemptions from the antitrust laws in this case on the pleadings,” the attorneys said in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The attorneys said in a filing that if the court did not resolve the factual disputes before deciding on whether the labor exemption applies to this case, “the court may disrupt the proper balance between federal labor law and federal antitrust law and undermine the fundamental protections for competition and consumers embodied in the federal antitrust laws.”

The WGA said it remains committed to its request to dismiss the case.

WGA West President David Goodman said in a statement that the agencies’ antitrust claims are contrary to the precedent set by the Supreme Court and “we remain confident that the court will dismiss them.”

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He added: “It’s not surprising that Trump’s Justice Department has filed a brief designed to weaken a labor union’s effort to protect its members and eliminate conflicts of interest by talent agencies.”

The next hearing for the case is scheduled for Dec. 6.

The WGA and Assn. of Talent Agents have been in a months-long dispute over a new code of conduct. The WGA West has negotiated with more than 80 talent agencies that have agreed to the union’s terms, including ending industry practices like packaging, when agencies pull together talent for projects and collect a fee from studios. So far, five talent agencies that are members of the ATA have broken ranks and agreed to WGA’s terms.

The agencies say that writers benefit from packaging because they don’t have to pay the typical 10% commission fee. Some large agencies are continuing to package shows without writers and centering the projects on popular books, podcasts and foreign-language shows.


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