Installment #2: CNN Investigative Series Runway Injustice: The outrageous cost of being a model

Available here:

"Modeling is a time-consuming, demanding and cutthroat profession. But most of all, it can be prohibitively expensive.
Unlike most U.S. workers, models regularly see huge chunks of their earnings -- whether it's a third, more than half, or even entire paychecks -- disappear right before their eyes.
One male model, for example, showed CNNMoney a statement where a $500 catalog shoot turned into a $15 check. Meanwhile a young female model saw almost six years of earnings shrink from $74,000 to less than $30,000.
Models typically aren't treated as employees, so they usually aren'tguaranteed to receive minimum wage, overtime, lunch breaks, prompt paychecks or many other protections that are common in the workplace.
Instead, they are often considered independent contractors. And this means that even after paying their agencies fat commissions of 20% or more, models often have to foot the bill for business expenses. These include everything from expensive plane tickets and group housing to the many promotional materials -- like websites, headshots and portfolios -- required to land jobs with clients." (link)
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CNN: Runway Injustice: How the Modeling Industry Exploits Young and Vulnerable Workers

That's the title of today's CNN article covering the NYC modeling industry:

From an analysis of pay stubs and financial statements, interviews with dozens of current and former models, attorneys, labor experts and even a former agency executive, a CNNMoney investigation has found that the fashion world often treats its models in ways that would be unheard of in many other industries. (link)

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In many cases, models say it's the agency (or management company, as some call themselves) that takes advantage of them. While they say the designers and brands they pose for can also be part of the problem, models interviewed by CNNMoney were more concerned about agency practices and didn't single out clients. (link)

While the article addresses multiple industry practices, it notes that the core of the problems stem from agencies' classification of models as independent contractors –- a classification currently being challenged as illegal by The Dugger Law Firm, PLLC in a lawsuit on behalf of Plaintiff Eva Agerbrink and additional fit models against modeling agency MSA Models:

The industry's labor issues often stem from the fact that even though models say agencies control much of their lives (down to their eating habits and the pay they receive), they typically aren't considered employees.
Clients don't typically claim them as employees either. Instead, models are left as contract workers in an industry with little oversight -- making it very difficult for them to challenge everything from wage theft to sexual harassment (link)

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That's because agencies don't classify models as employees, and as a result they avoid minimum wage laws (though several lawsuits are currently challenging this classification). And the countless hours spent at castings, test shoots and go-sees (meetings with agents or designers) usually result in no compensation at all. (link)

In September 2014, The Dugger Law Firm, PLLC filed what appears to be the first of these lawsuits challenging a NYC modeling agency’s classification of its models as independent contractors.  

Thank you to CNN for shining light on this industry.

Court Grants Motion Expanding MSA Models Independent Contractor Misclassification Class Action to Include Unjust Enrichment Claim for All MSA Models and MSA COO Bill Ivers as an Individual Defendant

On September 26, 2014, The Dugger Law Firm, PLLC, on behalf of Eva Agerbrink, filed a class and collective action complaint in New York federal court against modeling agency MSA Models and MSA Models owner Susan Levine. 

On January 7, 2016, Judge Francis granted Plaintiff Eva Agerbrink’s motion to amend her class and collective action complaint to: (1) add MSA Models Chief Operating Officer Bill Ivers as an individual defendant; (2) add a class claim of unjust enrichment concerning MSA’s liquidated damages provision in its modeling contract between the company and its models; and (3) expand the scope of the putative class action from only MSA fit models to include all types of MSA models (i.e. fashion, lifestyle, showroom) with respect to the class claim for unjust enrichment.

As a result, the putative class in this litigation has been expanded from Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law wage and hour misclassification claims for all MSA fit models (from September 2008 to the present), to include all types of MSA models (i.e. fit, fashion, showroom, and/or lifestyle) concerning class claims for unjust enrichment related to MSA’s allegedly unenforceable contractual liquidated damages provision (from January 2000 to the present).

Specifically, with respect to the claim for unjust enrichment, the Court held:

“The crux of this claim -- that the defendants have been unjustly enriched by retaining payments from clients and owed to the plaintiff for work performed -- is that the defendants are not entitled to these monies because the MSA Contract’s liquidated damages provision is unenforceable. The Second Amended Complaint contains a number of assertions that plausibly suggest that the liquidated damage provision is an illegal penalty and therefore invalid, namely, that it is not ‘a reasonable measure of anticipated loss’ but rather is ‘a means by which Defendants . . . intimidate MSA models into compelled continued performance.’"

Accordingly, Plaintiff’s amended complaint alleges that, because this provision is unenforceable under New York law, all monies withheld by MSA under this provision from any MSA fit, fashion, lifestyle, and/or showroom model, since January 2010, must be paid back to these models.

A copy of the Court’s decision is available here.

Previously, on June 16, 2015, Judge Oetken denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiff’s wage and hour FLSA and New York Labor Law claims.  In addition, on October 27, 2015, Judge Francis ordered Defendants to provide a corrective notice to members of the putative class following his review of an email that MSA Chief Operating Officer William Ivers sent to members of the putative class regarding the litigation.

The case is Agerbrink v. Model Service LLC d/b/a MSA Models, No. 14 Civ. 7841, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.