July 21st, 2024

Appeals court rejects Broadway producer’s antitrust claim against actors’ and stage managers’ union

By Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press on July 2, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – An appeals court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by a Tony Award-winning producer who claims that a union for actors and stage managers organized an illegal boycott that prevented him from producing live Broadway shows.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the producer, Garth Drabinsky, could not continue with his $50 million lawsuit alleging that the Actors’ Equity Association violated antitrust and various state laws, including defamation.

The union represents over 50,000 theater actors and stage managers.

Luke Hasskamp, a lawyer for Drabinsky, declined to comment.

Drabinsky, 74, whose hits include “Ragtime” and a 1994 revival of “Show Boat,” claimed in his lawsuit that the union engaged in an unlawful campaign of defamation and harassment by spreading rumors about him, instituting a one-day work stoppage and putting him on its Do Not Work list to discourage anyone from working with him.

“So long as the union’s conduct promotes legitimate labor goals, it retains the benefit of the labor exemption and remains impervious to antitrust liability,” the three-judge 2nd Circuit panel said in a decision written by Judge Raymond J. Lohier Jr.

The court said Equity engaged in the boycott “precisely to protect its members’ wages and working conditions” after cast members of the musical “Paradise Square” objected to unsafe conditions on set, a racially hostile work environment and unpaid wages. It noted that Drabinsky claimed he lacked control over wages and working conditions, although his lawsuit alleged he controlled hiring, firing and pay during the production.

Al Vincent Jr., executive director of the Actors’ Equity Association, said the union was “glad the court agreed with every single argument that we made and concluded that Drabinsky’s lawsuit was meritless.”

He said the ruling “will serve Equity and the labor movement well in the future with respect to the right to use the Do Not Work list against employers that harm our members.”

“We are happy to put this behind us,” Vincent added. “Our mission is to protect actors and stage managers from employers like Drabinsky, and no amount of intimidation will deter us.”

“Paradise Square,” which explored racial conflict between Black Americans and Irish immigrants amid the 1863 Civil War race riots in New York City, closed on Broadway in July 2022 after 23 previews and 108 performances. Drabinsky’s “Ragtime” ran for two years on Broadway.

Drabinsky, a Canadian, was sentenced in August 2009 to seven years in prison in that country for fraud convictions by a judge who said he and another producer submitted false financial statements to investors to misrepresent their company’s financial condition.

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