“Modern Family” is looking more like “Family Feud” after actors in the most watched comedy on U.S. television sued producer Twentieth Century Fox Television, threatening summer filming in a fight over pay and outside work.
Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell and other cast members are asking a California judge to void contracts that cap pay and bar outside work just ahead of the show’s planned fourth season, according to a complaint filed yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
A ruling is necessary “to avoid the hardship caused on the parties by a protracted dispute and further delay” in light of the new season, lawyers for the actors said in the complaint against the producer, a unit of News Corp. The contracts violate state labor law prohibiting some agreements for services lasting more than seven years, according to the filing.
The suit pits the actors against a producer they claim bars them from working elsewhere while locking them into single-digit pay raises. The success of “Modern Family,” the biggest show on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC broadcast network and central to its effort to draw viewers to new shows in September, “has been built upon a collection of illegal contracts,” the actors said.
The contract for Vergara, 40, limits per-episode compensation increases each year to 5 percent, while cast members Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Burrell and Bowen are entitled to 4 percent more annually, according to the complaint.
The actors, represented by Jeffery D. McFarland, a partner with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP in Los Angeles, also said they are barred from seeking roles outside the program without Fox’s consent.
Chris Alexander, a spokesman for Twentieth Century Fox Television in Los Angeles, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Vergara’s contract began in 2007. In 2009, 20th Century Fox sent her an amended contract that requires her television work to be exclusively for Fox until 2015, according to the complaint. Vergara contends she didn’t sign those amendments.
In 2003, “Sopranos” star James Gandolfini sued Time Warner Inc.’s HBO and the show’s producers in an attempt to void his contract. The cast of six “Friends” stars, including Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox, threatened to leave the NBC show in 1996, demanding a fourfold salary increase from Warner Bros., the sitcom’s producer.
News Corp., controlled by Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, rose 30 cents to $22.05 in Nasdaq stock market trading in New York at 12:42 p.m. Burbank, California-based Disney gained 14 cents to $48.30 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The case is Vergara v. Twentieth Century Fox, BC488786, Los Angeles County Superior Court (Los Angeles).