Television Writers’ Privacy Objections Overruled In Age Class Action Against Studios, Networks And Talent Agencies

Alch v. Superior Court, 165 Cal. App. 4th 1412 (2008)

In this ongoing putative class action filed by television writers alleging “industry-wide” age discrimination, the writers served subpoenas on the Writers Guild of America (“WGA”) and other third parties, seeking demographic information, including dates of birth, employment data such as writers’ employers, job titles, credits and dates of employment, and anecdotal evidence of age discrimination. The writers contended this information was the “bare minimum necessary to litigate their claims of systemic practices of age discrimination.” In response to a privacy notice that went to 47,000 WGA members, 7,700 individuals filed objections to the production of this information. The trial court sustained the privacy objections, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding in a two-to-one ruling that the trial court “gave short shrift to the public interest in pursuing the litigation,” and granted the writers’ petition for a writ of mandate. Cf. Hurlic v. Southern Cal. Gas Co., 539 F.3d 1024 (9th Cir. 2008) (cash balance pension plans do not violate the anti-age discrimination provision of ERISA, and ERISA preempts state law discrimination claim); Whitman v. Mineta, 541 F.3d 929 (9th Cir. 2008) (federal employee failed to show he was qualified or eligible for promotion to a position that was filled by a younger employee).