Law360

October 19, 2021, 6:20 PM EDT

By Beverly Banks

A former “Key & Peele” showrunner is asking a California federal court to approve a proposed class of TV writers who allege that the Writers Guild of America West and Viacom subsidiaries did not pay them royalties for shows on streaming platforms.

Jay Martel, a TV writer who says he is a member of the WGA, argued in a motion Monday in Los Angeles federal court that class certification is appropriate because the proposed class has similar claims for inadequate pay. The proposed class members were also subject to a collective settlement negotiated by the union and company over unpaid royalties.

The union and Viacom negotiated a settlement in late 2019 and early 2020 that addressed the company’s continuous failure to pay royalties for shows streamed on the network’s online platforms, according to Martel’s complaint. The suit includes dozens of television programs such as “Key & Peele,” “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “Tosh.0.”

“Plaintiff and the class have alleged that the WGA violated its duty of fair representation by failing to adequately represent the rights of class members in entering into an inadequate settlement agreement,” according to the motion. “Plaintiff and the class are further seeking adequate compensation for the exploitation of their works by the employer defendants.”

Martel, who said in court filings that he has won Emmy and Peabody awards, filed suit in March 2021, alleging that the union and Viacom negotiated a settlement agreement that eliminated the company’s responsibility to pay royalties from streaming shows in exchange for a lump sum payment.

The company’s failure to pay these royalties to writers violated its collective bargaining agreement, and the “sweetheart deal” with the WGA demonstrated the union’s failure to fairly present all its members, Martel said.

The WGA kept Martel and proposed class members “in the dark” and did not gather evidence from members for an arbitration effort between the union and the company, according to Monday’s motion.

The proposed class would include all WGA members who have claims for streaming royalties within Viacom’s units and the union’s settlement agreement.

“Moreover, the employer defendants’ conduct was not predicated on any individualized inquiry, but a common classwide policy applicable to all residual recipients who fall within the class definition and implemented to all class members,” according to the motion.

The company and union filed separate responses to the suit in April 2021.

The company said that Viacom and its subsidiaries agreed to make specific payments under the collective bargaining agreement with the WGA, but denied that the company breached the collective bargaining agreement or failed to pay writers the royalties.

The WGA denied Martel’s allegations that the union failed to fairly represent the writers and said Martel was not a member of the union.

Counsel for the proposed class did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Counsel for the union and Viacom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Viacom and the union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 Martel is represented by Neville L. Johnson, Douglas L. Johnson and Daniel B. Lifschitz of Johnson & Johnson LLP; by Jeffrey A. Koncius and Kevin D. Zipser of Kiesel Law LLP; and by Daniel L. Warshaw and Bobby Pouya of Pearson Simon & Warshaw LLP.

The union is represented by Anthony R. Segall and Juhyung Harold Lee of Rothner Segall & Greenstone.

Viacom and its subsidiaries are represented by Adam Levin and Jeffrey L. Richardson of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP.

The case is Jay Martel v. Writers Guild of America West Inc. et al., case number 2:21-cv-02389, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

–Editing by Leah Bennett.