In February 2001, extras Arlie Sego and David Heim filed the lawsuit that would launch a thousand checks—4,000 to be more precise. Sego and Heim challenged Central Casting's practice of taking a 5 percent commission on non-union extras' work. In what became a class-action lawsuit, the two claimed that this practice was leaving many extras with an hourly rate that was less than the state-mandated minimum wage. Last week Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr ruled that Central's payroll company, Entertainment Partner's Group, must reimburse some 4,000 victims a grand total of $1.2 million dollars.
"Everybody from whom at least $150 was withheld since 1997 will receive 100 percent reimbursement of that money," said the plaintiffs' attorney Maxwell Blecher, of the law firm Blecher & Collins. This includes everyone whose earnings from Central Casting jobs totaled $3,000 or more.
Blecher explained that there were more than 20,000 extras in the $150 or less category who would not be reimbursed. For many of them, the reimbursement would have been less than the cost of preparing and mailing the check.
"The judge said that's not practicable to force them to do that," said Blecher. "We'd get a lot of transients who did a TV show or a picture and then moved on, and most of those checks could get returned anyhow. So the judge made the cutoff at $150."
Blecher seemed content with the settlement and did not feel the deal would have been any better had the suit gone to trial. "I think, as did the judge, that it's very constructive for two reasons: One, the practice that was under investigation has been stopped, so in the future we've gotten this thing cleared up; and, two, the people owed the most significant amounts of money have been reimbursed."
Central Casting reportedly did stop its practice of charging the 5 percent commission a month before the lawsuit was filed.
When contacted for a response to the settlement, the defendants' attorney, Joseph Scudiero, refused to comment. Calls to Entertainment Partners Group were not returned by press time.
The idea for the lawsuit originally arose, the defendants said, when Heim read about this practice in the well-known guidebook Extra Work for Brain Surgeons, published by Hollywood OS. The book's listing included the hint that this practice may be causing non-union extras' wages to dip below the state minimum.
Another important note is that Heim has not seen his number of bookings decrease since he filed the suit. The settlement warns against any retaliation against those involved in the suit. Reads the court document, "Defendants will not threaten, harass, discriminate or retaliate against, either directly or indirectly, any class member because of his or her participation in this settlement."
Extras who are owed money should receive their checks within the next 90 days. Anyone who is owed money but believes Central Casting does not have his or her current address should write Cenex at 2835 North Naomi Street, Burbank, CA 91504.