SAG-AFTRA Fights to Revive Blocked California Age Discrimination Law

The American labor union representing some 160,000 television and film actors, radio personalities, journalists, singers and others is arguing a 2017 California age discrimination law that censors celebrity ages online should be reinstated. The law was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on First Amendment grounds.age discrimination

The goal of AB 1687  was to crack down on rampant age discrimination in youth-oriented Hollywood, but the effect has been the ages and birthdays of famous actresses and actors can be removed from online entertainment employment services sites like IMDb.com, at the entertainers’ request.

Los Angeles age discrimination lawyers understand that SAG-AFTRA’s argument to have it reinstated was met with a great deal of skepticism from the appellate court justices.

Both Overinclusive and Underinclusive? 

IMDb, wildly popular with 250 million unique visitors monthly, was created in the early 1990s, with its website launched in 1996. The law had forced the company to remove actors’ ages if they were subscribers to the site’s premium service and asked them to do so.

Supporters of the law had said this prevented casting directors from using the easily-available information to discriminate in casting decisions. However, attorneys for the IMDb, however, say that restriction of factual information about figures who are public is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Justices noted that the law sweeps broadly, applicable beyond just the contractual relationships they were designed to target, even as the same information about an entertainer’s age can be easily found on other websites that can’t be regulated by California law. One justice agreed the state had a compelling interest in addressing age discrimination, but struggled to grasp how this measure actually halted age discrimination, and said it likely there were other ways to address workplace age discrimination in Hollywood.

In essence, the statute is both underinclusive and overinclusive, something the state deputy attorney general and SAG-AFTRA had difficulty explaining in defense of it. The primary argument was that IMDb is the top information source on information professionals, and the templates it uses facilitate age discrimination by posting actors’ ages very prominently on the top of each listing. 
One appellate justice cited a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in which it was held government can’t impose restrictions on speech just because a third party *might* use it for illegal conduct.
Attorneys for SAG cited another SCOTUS ruling from 1973, finding that a newspaper could not legally run “men only” or “women only” job advertisements. One of the justices responded by asking how one media outlet acting to directly promote unlawful conduct relates to posting actor ages online – especially when all sides concede its legal for Google or Wikipedia to print birthdays and ages. 
Regardless of the outcome of this case, there is little question that the internet has had a substantial impact on federal and state anti-discrimination. On one hand, workers have the benefit of learning what is legal – and what is not – with a few taps of our fingertips. On the other, some have argued widespread access to information weakens antidiscrimination laws because while employers may not be able to ask a person’s age, they can often easily find it. 

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Ninth Circuit Probes Worth of IMDb Law in Fight of Hollywood Ageism, Sept. 9, 2019, Nicholas Iovino, Courthouse News