The Work

December 22, 2008 5:36 PM

WWE, Wrestlers Now Wait for the Judge

Posted by Zach Lowe

In honor of the fabulous film "The Wrestler" (the Am Law Daily is driving the Mickey Rourke Oscar bandwagon), we decided to check in on the interesting suit three fairly well-known pro wrestlers filed against the WWE over the summer in which the grapplers alleged that the company wrongly classifies them as independent contractors and not employees

Fortuitous timing: the WWE's defense team at K&L Gates and Day Pitney filed its final paperwork today. In the filing, the WWE lawyers asked a federal judge to ignore the wrestlers' claims and dismiss the case. The team's argument is simple: the wrestlers' contract explicitly says they are "independent contractors" who are not entitled to health coverage and other benefits, and that no claims the wrestlers (and their attorneys at the Stamford, Conn.-based boutique Silver, Golub & Teitell) make can trump those contracts. 

"Plaintiffs cannot escape the clear language of the Booking Contracts," the motion says. 

The wrestlers (for the record: Scott Levy, aka "Raven", Chris "Kanyon" Klucsartis and "Above Average" Mike Sanders) essentially claim that the standard WWE contract is unfair, since the company demands full-time services akin to what employees provide, including extensive travel and a commitment to a huge number of shows and non-televised appearances. 

In the past, courts have looked beyond a contract's literal language to determine someone's proper classification, name partner David Golub wrote in an earlier brief. Even so, the WWE argues that the wrestlers' claims are barred by a statute of limitations, since the wrestlers signed the initial deals more than six years ago. 

The K&L Gates/Day Pitney team, led by Jerry McDevitt, who has represented the WWE in steroid trials and intellectual property litigation over the last 20 years, also takes some pointed swipes at the Silver Golub team in their filing today. (We do like it when firms snipe at each other in litigation).

McDevitt and the Day Pitney group (Stanley Twardy, Douglas Bartinik and Felix Springer) chastise Silver Golub for not making any claims under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act in their initial complaint and say it's too late to do so now; Silver Golub, meanwhile, says it wanted to file an amended complaint citing some alleged ERISA violations, "but defendant refused to consent to an extension of time" to add those claims.

The WWE's team called the Silver Golub complaints about the lack of an extension "an effort to deflect blame for their own failure." Zing!

In all seriousness, this case is important enough that the handy Connecticut Employment Law Blog has followed its every move from the start, saying the ultimate resolution could affect booking contracts across a variety of professions. 

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I might be wrong in what I have researched on this subject, but as far as I understand, there is no Statute of Limitation for workers to fill disputes over such classifications.

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