In the pre-trial hearing for a $138.6 million discrimination suit against CBS Inc., Judge J. Spencer Letts decided yesterday the “affirmative action program” set forth by the broadcast company in conjunction with the Writers Guild was non-discriminatory and legal.
The program in question was billed as a minority-training program. Those who joined the program were paid half the contractual rate of experienced, or “seasoned,” writers.
Migdia Chinea-Varela, a Hispanic writer in Hollywood with 20 years experience, filed the multi-million dollar, class-action suit against CBS Dec. 15 alleging that CBS, when offering her a position, compelled her to join the training program, thereby forcing her to work for half-pay.
Cheryl Rhoden, spokesperson for the Writers Guild, said that Varela was not being truthful in her complaint because the training program wouldn’t have forced one to become a part of it. The entire program was voluntary.
Defending the program even further, Rhoden said, “Many people who have taken it have gone on to obtain full employment in the industry. It allows writers without experience to participate and share in the creation of television programming. If they do any writing that becomes a script, they are then paid full pay.”
Commenting on the half-pay system within the program, Rhoden added, “It is a training program, and actually, it’s a very generous one by most industries’ standards.”
Varela, however, maintains that she was, in fact, forced to join the program if she wanted work. When she refused to be a part of the program, it later caused a problem for her and her lawyer when they filed the class-action suit.
“The judge said that it wasn’t a class-action suit because my client didn’t accept the half-pay,” said Varela’s attorney, Scott Myer. “Therefore, she could not represent the people (in the program) who did accept half-pay.”
Commenting on how Judge Letts handled the case, Varela said that at the case’s status conference a few weeks ago, the judge had made some “very inappropriate comments.” According to Varela, the judge told the Writers Guild lawyer that Varela had no chance of prevailing in her class certification. Varela said that the judge also told the Writers Guild lawyers that they had a wonderful brief. Varela felt that it was very clear that, with these statements, the judge was showing favoritism to the other side.
Varela said that she was also very disturbed when she heard the judge say that he was looking forward to retirement and that he hadn’t heard a civil case since 1997.
Besides being disappointed in the “corruption” that she said she saw in the courtroom, Varela said she was also upset by the lack of support she received from the National Council of La Raza, a private, nonprofit organization established in 1968 to reduce poverty and discrimination and improve the life opportunities for Hispanic Americans.
Charles Kamasaki, a spokesperson for La Raza, said in an e-mail to Varela that he was troubled by the fact that Varela’s complaint focused on the program as the cause.
“As I see it, if there was some steering, or if indeed all Latinos — even experienced professionals — automatically were only considered under the special program, then the program was improperly administered,” Kamasaki said. “(But) the complaint itself notes that professional writers are not eligible, and later, there is a reference to Guild sanctions for members who agree to work below scale. This would suggest to me that the complaint should more properly be focused on the mal-administration or improper implementation of a well-intended program, not an attack on the program itself.”
Although Kamasaki refers to the problem as an “improper implementation” of the program, Myer believes that La Raza is getting tongue-tied on the real issues revolving around CBS’ affirmative action program.
“They’re so hung up on the term ‘affirmative action’ that they can’t see the difference between true affirmative action and something disguised as affirmative action,” Myer said. “They don’t want to come out against an ‘affirmative action’ program.”
Because both Varela and Myer believe that justice hasn’t yet been achieved, they plan on appealing it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, Rhoden told WorldNetDaily that the Writers Guild officials were confident from the beginning that the judge would agree with them and dismiss the case. She said the program will continue with the hope that it will be expanded in an effort to make the industry more inclusive.