Judge dismisses antitrust suit against HFPA, as group faces continued pressure to reform
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed an amended antitrust lawsuit that a Norwegian entertainment reporter had filed against the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., delivering the organization behind the Golden Globes a significant victory in a months-long legal battle that has attracted widespread attention in Hollywood.
In August, reporter Kjersti Flaa filed suit claiming that although the HFPA, which is composed of 87 international journalists, is a tax-exempt organization, it acted like a kind of cartel, barring qualified applicants — including herself — who might compete with existing members and thereby severely hampering their professional opportunities. Flaa’s suit asserted that the group was rife with ethical conflicts, with members accepting “thousands of dollars in emoluments” from the very same studios, networks and celebrities they confer trophies upon.
In November, U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld rejected the suit but allowed Flaa to file an amended motion, which was joined by Spanish journalist Rosa Gamazo Robbins. But in his latest ruling, Blumenthal dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be further amended.
In his decision, Blumenthal argued that, among other flaws in her case, Flaa had failed to show that she was economically harmed by being denied membership in the HFPA. “While it is understandable that Plaintiffs would want access to the non-market financial benefits of membership, they have not plausibly alleged that the HFPA provides exclusive access to the market for entertainment news reporting,” he wrote.
In a statement following the decision, the HFPA said, “We applaud the Court’s unequivocal rejection of Ms. Flaa’s and Ms. Robbins’ frivolous lawsuit, which was filled with nothing more than salacious and false allegations against the HFPA and members Meher Tatna, Tina Jøhnk Christensen, Aniko Navai and Aud Morisse.”
The HFPA’s attorney, Marvin Putnam of Latham & Watkins, said in a statement, in part, “As we said from the time Ms. Flaa and her lawyer first tried to shake down the HFPA last summer, the HFPA was committed to defeating this lawsuit in a court of law, and not in the press. We have now done that. We would hope that those same media publications will now take a hard look at the source of their stories to assess whether they relied too heavily on unproven allegations and theories put forth in Ms. Flaa’s and Ms. Robbins’ now twice-dismissed complaint.”
Even as the HFPA promises to add 13 Black members, many across Hollywood are demanding deeper changes and holding the group’s feet to the fire.
Despite its win in court, the HFPA continues to face pressure to undertake the “transformational change” it has promised in the wake of a Feb. 21 Times investigation. Since The Times highlighted the lack of a single Black journalist in the association that gives out one of Hollywood’s most coveted awards, the HFPA has been under fire over the makeup of its membership along with a range of alleged ethical lapses.
Faced with an unprecedented barrage of criticism from Hollywood power players including Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes, advocacy groups like Time’s Up and more than 100 PR agencies who signed a letter demanding change, the group has promised to add at least 13 Black members by next year and to conduct a review of its practices, along with a host of diversity training and other initiatives.
But the HFPA’s repeated pledges to undertake reforms have largely failed to quell the firestorm, and in recent days discussions have expanded to talent agents and studio publicists about ways to keep the pressure on the group as it works toward a self-imposed May 6 deadline to reveal its plans for change.
Verve on Friday became the first talent agency to publicly join the chorus calling for the group to reform itself. “For true change, reform should not be corrective, but organic,” the Verve Partners said in a statement. “Holding the HFPA accountable is imperative for our clients’ work to be represented in a fair and equal process. We will continue to use our platform to make sure voices are heard and we invite our agency peers to use their voices on behalf of their clients and the community at large.”
In her own statement Wednesday, Flaa vowed to continue to press ahead despite her latest loss in court. Her cause has been taken up by a number of other foreign entertainment journalists, 14 of whom sent a letter to the HFPA last week asking that they be accepted as members as a group.
“It’s disappointing that the district judge didn’t see anything wrong with the HFPA’s conduct when the rest of the industry, and the public, do,” Flaa wrote. “It has been pointed out in the media lately that the HFPA has promised to do better many times before, but it never does. We fear that the HFPA will quickly forget its recent promises to revise its bylaws, increase its membership, and become a more transparent, inclusive organization representing foreign entertainment reporters. We will of course appeal and are confident that the trial court’s dismissal will be reversed and that we will get our day in court. This is far from over yet.”
Times staff writer Stacy Perman contributed to this report.
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