A Los Angeles federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit over how much actors should be paid when they perform in small theaters.
The lawsuit, whose lead plaintiff was former SAG President Ed Asner, involved Actors’ Equity Association’s 99-seat theater plan, which calls for owners of theaters with fewer than 100 seats to pay union actors minimum wage for rehearsal and performance time.
U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter dismissed the lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning that the plaintiffs can file suit again if they wish.
A response from the plaintiffs was not immediately available.
“The dismissal of this lawsuit, which we had always viewed as a
frivolous and costly legal matter, is a victory for our union,” said Mary
McColl, Equity’s executive director.
“Not everyone in our union agreed with changes in policy that our
council put in place in April of 2015,” she said. “We understand those
opposing views, however, many of our members needed more than the nominal
performance stipends, which had been the longtime practice. These are not
unpaid internships — this is work.”
The case went to court after negotiations to resolve the dispute failed
over the summer.
Actors currently make as little as $7 a day at some small venues.
Beginning Jan. 1, the minimum wage in California will be $10.50 an hour.
The suit, filed in October 2015, argued that the union’s plan was
detrimental to the local theater community.
The plaintiffs in the Asner vs. Actors’ Equity case — including Asner,
Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, French Stewart and Tom Bower — argued that the wage
would be an untenable financial burden for small theaters, too drastic a shift
from the previous system that allowed for token payments for performances and
no wage for rehearsals.
The two sides began mediation negotiations in December 2015, but talks
subsequently collapsed, according to the New York-based union.
Equity represents more than 50,000 professional stage actors and stage
“Now that this matter has been addressed internally and validated by a
federal court ruling, we can devote our energies to working with Los Angeles’
theater producers to help them find the best ways to employ our members,”