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Schneiderman announces settlement with production co. for 'The Real Housewives of Atlanta'

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Mon, Dec 19th 2016 03:05 pm

Schneiderman: Company unlawfully denied overtime pay to hundreds of workers

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Monday announced a settlement with the television production company True Entertainment LLC that will require it to pay $411,000 in restitution to hundreds of employees who did not receive overtime despite routinely working well over 40 hours per week. The company, which has produced popular reality television programs including "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," has also agreed to measures that will ensure legal compliance in the future.

An investigation by the AG's office found 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. 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 fair 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."

While there are exemptions from state and federal overtime coverage, including for certain high-level, highly compensated, or professional employees, none of these exemptions applied in the current case. The overtime law focuses not on potentially misleading job titles given by the employer, but rather, on the specific job duties actually performed by employees. The 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. Based on their duties, these categories of employees were entitled to be paid overtime.

"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. We are grateful that the attorney general is taking action to ensure that these TV employers follow the law," said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East. "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."

Overtime laws exist to discourage employers from assigning long workweeks, to provide some compensation for people who have to put in very long hours, and also to spread and create employment throughout the workforce, by incentivizing companies to hire additional employees rather than overworking a more limited staff.

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.

Additional investigations in the reality TV production industry are ongoing.

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