Ruling Could Result in Large Penalties for Content Producers

Rhett Pardon
SAN FRANCISCO — When do content producers have to pay talent?

That is the question the California Supreme Court will decide when it hears the appeal of Smith vs. Superior Court (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 128.

In the case, state justices will decide whether models who receive flat fees for one-day assignments are “discharged” at the end of the day.

The decision could have consequences for adult productions shot in the state and trigger an obligation on the part of employers to pay the models immediately or face penalties.

The case justices will decide involves Amanza Smith who was approached four years ago about serving as a hair model at a show featuring L’Oreal products. She accepted an assignment for $500 for one day of work, but received her pay two months later.

Smith sued in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking class action status for her claims that the failure to pay promptly constituted conversion, fraud, unfair business practices, violation of Labor Code sections requiring immediate payment upon discharge, breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation.

California’s Labor Code cause of action seeks 30 days’ wages, or $15,000, per class member, under Labor Code Sec. 203, which provides that if an employee is not paid immediately upon discharge, he or she is entitled to a penalty equal to the amount of his or her wages for the number of days that he or she is required to wait for the money, up to 30 days.

The Superior Court judge granted summary adjudication on the Labor Code claims, concluding that Smith was not “discharged,” but rather “completed her employment by its terms.”

Later, an appeal court concurred with the trial judge, who relied on standard dictionaries defining “discharge” to mean “to dismiss from employment” or to “to terminate from employment,” thus implying “an affirmative action by an employer” rather than “a passive expiration of a set term or completion of a set task.”