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News
West March 20, 2002

CD Workshops Fight Ruling
AIA Studio cleared by investigator; other workshops organize.

By Laura Weinert
The Mar. 13 cease-and-desist deadline presented to 14 casting director workshop companies by the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, has come and gone, and the future of most workshops remains uncertain. While all but three Los Angeles workshop owners responded to the cease-and-desist letter, authored by DLSE regional attorney Thomas S. Kerrigan, thus far only one workshop, AIA Actor's Studio, has been given the official go-ahead to continue operations. Other workshop owners, said Kerrigan, could face some form of legal action as early as next week, though he declined to list the workshops by name.

The Feb. 21 letter to workshop owners set forth DLSE acting chief counsel Anne P. Stevason's opinion that casting director workshops are currently in violation of section 450 of the California Labor Code, which prohibits employers from compelling or coercing job applicants to pay a fee in order to be considered for employment. Stevason's original opinion found there to be "little or negligible instruction provided to actor participants at these workshops."

Yet after meeting with AIA's attorney Matthew C. Thompson of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Kerrigan determined that the company "appears to presently be in compliance with section 450 of the Labor Code, having eliminated the practices found to be illegal," as stated in his written opinion.

"AIA studios purged all their questionable and prohibited-type stuff on the websites and in their advertising back in January," said Kerrigan to BSW, "and they agreed that we could have access to their classes to monitor to make sure that they were not in fact in violation of the law in the future. So we've said they appear to be temporarily or at least presently in compliance, though we're not going to make any promises about any possible prosecution in the future."

Kerrigan said he had cited at least 14 examples of objectionable advertising materials that AIA had since removed. "There were things like testimonials where actors were saying, 'I get 40 percent of my work off these casting director workshops and they're wonderful ways to get jobs,'" said Kerrigan. "They were running a lot of things about young actors, which we thought were particularly egregious because they were directed to the young and families of the young--saying things like 'Come to these workshops,' 'Come to this camp,' which was something like $1,300--'and we'll tell you about cool casting opportunities.'"

Said AIA's attorney Thompson, "What [Kerrigan] was concerned about was some advertising from April or June of last year where it could be implied...that someone could get a job out of the workshop, and that does not happen, nor did it ever happen. The problem was the advertising wasn't clear. There was no false advertising. There was no illegality. Let's be frank: Do people get jobs out of these types of classes? No. But do they get relationships with casting directors that ultimately result in them getting jobs? I think that's happened before."

Kerrigan said that in addition to removing the advertising, AIA had also presented persuasive information on its employees' teaching backgrounds. "Representations have been made to us from at least three people from AIA Studios that they are actually teachers who have a teaching background," said Kerrigan.

Yet while AIA has been allowed to continue operating for the present time, the outlook for other casting director workshops remains murky. Kerrigan has been in communication with attorney Arnold Peter of the law firm Littler Mendelson, who represents the newly formed Actors Workshop Task Force, which includes a handful of workshops whose names have not been released. The group will meet in upcoming days, though the group's strategy remains unclear. Peter did not return calls by press time.

Kerrigan explained that he is open to meeting with any and all workshop owners but was not convinced by many owners' initial claims that his interpretation of the law was incorrect.

The DLSE is also contemplating expanding its investigation efforts. "We will also be looking at other possible parties that might be involved," said Kerrigan, "and what involvement we might be able to gain with respect to major studios and with casting directors themselves."

Future actions may include sending another letter, directed to entities other than the workshop owners, and possibly some administrative proceedings short of lawsuits.

"We have the power, for instance, to issue administrative subpoenas and look at people's records short of filing a lawsuit," said Kerrigan.

The DLSE also intends to begin some sort of monitoring process, though Kerrigan declined to give specifics. "We didn't start out on this road just to give somebody a slap on the head and say, 'OK, as long as you look like you are complying, that's sufficient,'" said Kerrigan. "Whether it's AIA or anybody else, we are going to continue to monitor them. For the others, we're going to demand compliance. Some of them have absolutely flouted the law."

In the meantime both the campaigns of the anti-workshop organization DoNotPay.org, founded by casting director Billy DaMota, and the newly formed pro-workshop Los Angeles Actors Workshop Coalition at www.laawc.com, continue apace. The pro-workshop coalition includes Actorsite, David Goldyn's Casting Director Workshops, In the Act, One on One, Reel Pros, The Casting Break, and The Casting Network.

The LAAWC's current strategy is to urge website visitors to fill out a pro-workshop form letter on the organization's website and send it to Kerrigan. Yet Kerrigan explained that these kinds of letters aren't likely to be of much use.

"We have received something like 30 to 40 e-mails a day from various groups," said Kerrigan. "Lately they've been very pro-workshop. If someone wants to send us information, that's fine, but just statements of opinion on pre-printed forms are not very helpful. There are some actors who get work from these workshops and would like them to continue, but that doesn't mean they are lawful."



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