New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced a settlement with TV production company True Entertainment for $411,000 in restitution for unpaid overtime.
The funds will go to hundreds of employees who did not receive overtime, despite routinely working well over 40 hours per week. The company, which produces reality programs, including “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” has also agreed to measures designed to ensure legal compliance in the future.
True Entertainment said the settlement was amicable and stemmed from a disagreement over some its . creative employees being eligible for overtime. The Writers Guild of America East, which has been expanding its jurisdiction in the reality TV sector, issued a strong statement of support for the action.
“The Writers Guild of America, East has been working closely with Associate Producers (APs) and other employees in the nonfiction/reality television sector, and many report working incredibly long hours without extra pay,” said Lowell Peterson, the WGA East executive director.
“We are grateful that the Attorney General is taking action to ensure that these TV employers follow the law. The union is working with employees to negotiate enforceable contracts that guarantee time and a half pay to APs and other overtime-eligible employees for all hours above 40 in a week,” he added.
An investigation by the Attorney General’s office found that production assistants and associate producers at True Entertainment often worked 50 hours per week, and sometimes as many as 72 hours, yet did not receive overtime pay as required by law. The probe found that True Entertainment paid these workers weekly or daily salaries, with no premiums for hours worked over 40 in a workweek and without keeping accurate records of hours worked.
“My office is committed to enforcing overtime laws, which guarantee hard working New Yorkers extra compensation for putting in long hours, and discourage employers from assigning extremely long workweeks,” Schneiderman said. “Production workers in the entertainment industry routinely work more than 40 hours per week, and I will do everything in my power to defend their right to overtime pay.”
The Attorney General’s office said production assistants and assistant producers for True Entertainment had a range of duties, including crowd control, making travel arrangements, obtaining releases from people appearing on camera, and logging footage.
The settlement funds will be distributed to production assistants, associate producers, and workers who performed equivalent tasks for True Entertainment. The settlement also requires True Entertainment to analyze the job duties of producers to see if their duties entitle them to overtime.
True Entertainment issued a statement following the Attorney General’s announcement:
“True Entertainment has been a top creator of TV programming for nearly 17 years, and for every one of those years has compensated its employees fairly and competitively, with many employees having worked at True for more than a decade. In fact, True Entertainment employees receive fair and competitive compensation, and benefits including, for example, health insurance and paid time off. In this case, the company classified a small number of people as creative employees, exempt from overtime compensation, under applicable federal and state laws. The New York State Attorney General did not agree; thus, we reached an amicable settlement of the issue with the Attorney General. We greatly value our employees at True Entertainment, and look forward to continuing to focus on creating and producing high quality programming for our network partners.”
The Attorney General’s investigation was handled by Assistant Attorney General C. Michael Higgins, under the supervision of Labor Bureau Civil Enforcement Section Chief Mayur Saxena, Labor Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.