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Last week, hundreds of aging television writers won the right to proceed with 23 class actions accusing networks, studios, production companies and talent agencies of discriminating against them by hiring only people younger than 40. “Plaintiffs in a class action need not prove each class plaintiff was a victim of discrimination,” California 2d District Court of Appeal Justice Paul Boland wrote in an 81-page ruling. “They must prove the existence of a discriminatory policy and, if they do so, they are entitled to class-wide relief.” Justices Candace Cooper and Madeleine Flier concurred. The suit, filed by members of the Writers Guild of America, claimed that networks and studios have for years maintained a systemwide policy of refusing to hire or provide writing opportunities to men and women who are 40 or older. Talent agencies are aware of the policy, the suit contends, and refer only younger clients for jobs. The writers claim that networks and studios “have a youth-oriented corporate culture that indiscriminately favors youth over age and experience” in order to generate higher advertising revenues by attracting “younger viewing audiences.” The suit names almost all of the major studios, networks and talent agencies, including Time Warner Entertainment, the William Morris Agency, Walt Disney Pictures and Television, Fox Broadcasting Co. and many others. The defendants are represented by a who’s who roster of firms such as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Munger Tolles & Olson; Proskauer Rose; O’Melveny & Myers; and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. The plaintiffs’ case is led by Minneapolis-based Sprenger & Lang. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy Jr. had thrown out the 23 class actions, but the Sept. 14 ruling revives them by saying that the writers have legitimate discrimination claims under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. “The contention the writers are required to plead facts showing individual refusals to hire . . . or ‘face dismissal at the pleading stage,’” Justice Boland wrote, “is unsupported by either California or federal law.” The ruling states that the writers’ suits can continue, even though a federal court case alleging the same facts was dismissed. It also allows claims by “deterred applicants”-writers who didn’t apply for jobs because they knew of the “long-standing” policy of discrimination. The case is Alch v. Superior Court (Time Warner Entertainment), No. B165638.

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