IMDb Lets Actors Union Join Age Discrimination Challenge

By January 24, 2017
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The Internet Movie Database won’t oppose a request by Hollywood’s biggest actors union to join a lawsuit challenging a new California law designed to combat age discrimination in television and films.

SAG-AFTRA told a San Francisco judge two weeks ago it wanted to join state lawmakers in the suit which IMDb challenged the constitutionality of a law that would require the website to remove ages of actors upon request. IMDb says the law unfairly targets them when others share the information as well, and that it shouldn’t be censored anyway since birthdays are factual information.

IMDb’s indifference to SAG-AFTRA’s inclusion could pave the way for the union to join the lawsuit, if it’s approved by Judge Vince Chhabria. The union was created in 2012 from the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, representing 160,000 actors and other performers that work on both screen and radio waves.

Former Beverly Hills 90210 actress Gabrielle Carteris leads the organization, and was a major proponent of the age discrimination law know as Assembly Bill 1687.

“SAG-AFTRA is in a unique position to defend the constitutionality of this law because of its expertise concerning the phenomenon of rampant age discrimination in the entertainment industry that gave rise to its involvement as the sponsor of AB 1687, and to the passage of this legislation.”

Moez M. Kaba, one of the attorneys representing IMDb, filed a single page document with the court Monday saying he had no issue with SAG-AFTRA joining the suit.

In the meantime deputy attorney general Anthony Hakl, representing California’s interim attorney general Kathleen Kenealy, asked Chhabria to reject IMDb’s attempts to temporarily halt the law while the civil suit progresses, claiming the Amazon-owned website has “no likelihood of success on the merits.”

Hakl’s biggest argument is that IMDb cannot claim free speech protection from the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment because the new law “regulates contracts between employment service providers and their paying subscribers, as opposed to speech,” so the First Amendment would not apply.

“The First Amendment is not a source of ‘limitless’ protection, not even for the publication of truthful information acquired lawfully.

“While (AB 1687) may not be a generally applicable law, the key point is that it has only ‘incidental effects,’ if any, on IMDb’s ability to publish factual information.”

Even more, Hakl argues, if IMDb is allowed to publish age information with the blessing of a federal court, how can there be assurances that such treatment also wouldn’t extend to other typically confidential information, like education records.

IMDb also has maintained that simply forcing the website to remove age information will do nothing to help combat the problem in Hollywood. Especially since such information can be found by other resources not covered by the law.

Once again, however, Hakl disagrees.

“IMDb’s argument that the state simply needs to enforce its current age discrimination laws fall short. The legislature determined that, in this particular industry, those laws have proven insufficient to eliminate discrimination. As a further remedial measure, AB 1687 was designed to limit the availability of age information of entertainment industry professionals.”

Finally, Hakl claims that IMDb won’t suffer any irreparable harm during the lawsuit because the company waited months before asking the court to hit the pause button. IMDb, Hakl said, had at least four months to ask the court for an injunction against the law, before it finally did at the beginning of the month.

Chhabria has set an initial hearing for Feb. 16 in San Francisco.

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael began what has become nearly 19 years of entertainment reporting as the founder of SyFy Portal, which would become Airlock Alpha after he sold the SyFy brand to NBC Universal. He's based out of New York City where he is the editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in the Bronx.