'American Idol' Discrimination Suit Moves Forward

Clark also signed a contract with AFTRA, the television performer's union. Contestants are required to join once they reach the top 10 or 12 -- a fact made public by the union in 2007. According to Clark's contracts, his wages per appearance ranged from $648 to $1,251.

Clark was disqualified from the show in season two with nine contestants remaining after producers said he was less than forthcoming about a previous battery arrest involving his younger sister and police. According to his attorney, Clark did disclose the arrest to producers during the Hollywood round. Two of the charges were later dropped and Clark took a plea to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge.

In addition to the discrimination lawsuit, Clark filed a separate defamation lawsuit in January against FOX, E! Entertainment and others for comments he says they made about his exit from the show as well as comments made about his later claim that he had an affair with then judge Paula Abdul.

Clark, now 33, spoke about their relationship at length in a 2005 interview for ABC News' "Primetime Live," saying what started off as a platonic relationship between the then 22-year-old contestant and then 40-year-old judge soon became sexual. In a statement to ABC News at the time, Abdul said she "will not dignify the false statements made by Corey Clark with a response."

Clark's employment status is significant because if he was considered an actual employee, then "all other Claimants in this proceeding necessarily were, at the very least, employee applicants being considered for the employment position of 'principal performer' as an American Idol Finalist," and would, therefore, be protected under Title VII, the plaintiffs' attorney argued in a June reply to the EEOC.

Their attorney claims that the show "fraudulently concealed the true legal status of the participants" by having them sign an initial "Contestant Agreement" at auditions that expressly states they are not to be deemed employees or independent contractors of the show. Instead participants are merely "volunteers" and/or "licensors" of their names and likenesses.

By classifying the plaintiffs as mere "volunteers" or "licensors" rather than as employees, their lawyer argues, "Idol" has "managed to avoid significant federal and state tax laws applicable to employees, among other benefits" and "avoid statutory restrictions concerning employers' hiring, treatment of and termination of employees in the workplace."

All of the plaintiffs who made it past initial auditions and were given a "golden ticket" to Hollywood were then required to disclose their arrest history and were subject to a background check conducted by the show, the plaintiffs' suit states. Plaintiffs who objected to signing any of the forms were threatened with being expelled from the show, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs contend that any adverse findings were then illegally disseminated to the media and later used by the show's producers to humiliate them in a "highly visible public forum" on the show.

The plaintiffs go on to say that the show "implemented a systemic, long-standing practice of publicly humiliating Black contestants through pre-scripted public disqualifications based on criminal record history, while at the same time championing the advancement of White contestants whose criminal records were far more egregious."

The show's producers argued that they use background checks to insure that contestants who may become finalists have no legal entanglements that might "interfere" with or "embarrass" the show. In their response to the EEOC, producers said their biggest concern with a contestant's arrest history was not having that person available because of pending legal matters.

The response also pointed out that 31 African Americans with criminal records were never disqualified and were allowed to participate in the show.

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