A federal judge has denied WME’s bid to resume representing writers while its lawsuit against the Writers Guild of America plays out in court.
Judge Andre Birotte of California’s Central District ruled Wednesday that he did not have the authority to issue the preliminary injunction sought by WME because the guild’s actions in this case are governed by other federal labor laws. Moreover, there has been a lack of “unlawful acts” to warrant such a move, Birotte wrote.
“Defendants’ group boycott against Plaintiff has not involved unlawful acts or substantial and irreparable injury to property,” Birotte wrote. “The Court is persuaded by other courts which have found that “unlawful acts” as is required by section 7 is limited to acts of ‘violence, intimidation, threats, vandalism, breaches of the peace and criminal acts.’ ”
WME declined to comment.
The ruling leaves WME in a difficult spot as the judge has indicated his reluctance to intervene in a private business dispute. The question of whether the fight between WME and the WGA qualifies under legal definition as a labor dispute or not has been a key source of debate in the case as it has unfolded so far. WME is the last remaining plaintiff in the lawsuit that was filed by WME, CAA and UTA in June 2019.
“Plaintiff’s allegations that Defendants’ boycott is unlawful simply underscores the core of this dispute — the parties have two diametrically opposed views on how agents and agencies must comport in the ‘association or representation’ of writers when ‘negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of employment,’ ” Birotte wrote. “Disputes involving the contractual means (i.e., the ‘how’) of labor representation does not convert this matter into a non-labor issue. Undoubtedly, this controversy springs from a labor dispute within the meaning of the Norris-LaGuardia Act.”
Moreover, Birotte added, “The NLGA states that a Court cannot enjoin actions including ‘ceasing or refusing to perform any work or to remain in any relation of employment.’ Boycotts related to employment conditions are protected activities under this section and cannot be enjoined even when individuals are ‘engaged in an unlawful combination or conspiracy.’ “
The battle was sparked in early 2019 when the WGA implemented an overhaul of its franchise agreement rules governing how talent agents can represent guild members. The WGA has been successful in its campaign to ban the longstanding industry practice of packaging fees for TV series and to demand that talent agencies limit their financial ties to production and distribution entities.
Earlier on Wednesday, WME issued a statement faulting the WGA for failing to engage in negotiations on a settlement.