LOS ANGELES: On Saturday, Oct. 17, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of 18 individual plaintiffs, most of them celebrity members of Actors’ Equity Association (including Ed Harris and Ed Asner) and several others who were party to a 1989 Settlement Agreement against Equity (including Salome Jens and Tom Ormeny), against Equity and its executive director, Mary McColl. This lawsuit has long been expected as a logical next step in resolving the conflict. That doesn’t make the story easy to understand.
The complaint lists five allegations of misconduct on Equity’s part, including breach of contract, good faith, and various duties as well as violation of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. Plaintiffs ask for an injunction requiring that Equity abide by the terms of the 1989 settlement and cease from making unilateral changes to it. Among the plaintiffs’ other requests of the court are punitive damages “to punish it and to make an example of it to deter such violations in the future.”
The suit has not yet been formally served upon Equity, but is now a matter of public record and has been widely reported since last night. Once the suit is formally served, Equity will have 21 days in which to respond via legal means. Of course, it is free to pursue those means immediately now that the complaint is public.
The plaintiffs’ presumptive strategy in releasing their complaint in a press release, complete with aggrieved quotes from French Stewart, Michael Shepperd, Karen Kondazian, and other plaintiffs, is to give Equity the chance to examine the case against it, realize its position, and enter negotiations regarding changes it announced in April to its small theatre contracts in Los Angeles. These changes include a mandate of federal minimum wage payments to actors and stage managers working in nonprofit theaters with fewer than 100 seats.
The plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Steven J. Kaplan, said last night after filing, “Bringing a lawsuit helps to focus people’s attention. We are hopeful that by filing the lawsuit, we will move Equity to take the concerns of its members and parties to the  settlement seriously.
“Equity has extra time to think about how it wants to respond,” he continued. “The plaintiffs are members of Equity, for the most part, and far from hostile to the union, they are major supporters. They want to give the union the opportunity to sit down with them if they’re so inclined. Now that there’s a lawsuit pending, we are hopeful that the union will take the time to meet with our clients.”
John Flynn, a plaintiff and member of the Review Committee charged in the 1989 settlement with oversight of what has come to be known as the 99-seat plan, said this morning, “Change does not come by unilateral edict from a source which is either uninformed or willfully blind. We must all sit down together and find a way forward.”
Flynn continued, “We all want to create and we all want to make money. Intimate theatre here has become the only incubator which is still a democratic meritocracy. Those of us working in it are working by choice. Because of these theatres and the artists willingly giving their time, the ability to create still exists. The money to pay everyone does not exist.”
Equity did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint, which is understandable given that the filing was a Saturday surprise, and given that Equity has a lot riding on its response. UPDATE, OCT. 19, 12:14 PST: Equity released a response briefly outlining its defense of the process under contention and expressing disappointment at “what will surely be a very expensive litigation…Equity is fully prepared to defend both the process and the substance of Council’s actions.”
A copy of the entire complaint may be read here.