A Not So Sweet ‘Sweetheart’ Deal: “Key & Peele” Showrunner Jay Martel Sues Writers Guild of America

Steven T. Lowe

A statue of the blindfolded lady justice in front of the United States Supreme Court building as the sun rises in the distance symbolizing the dawning of a new era. (A statue of the blindfolded lady justice in front of the United States Supreme Court

On March 17th, 2021, a class action suit led by “Key & Peele” showrunner, Jay Martel, was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

After years of failing to pay streaming royalties to writers on dozens of television shows, including “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” “Tosh.0,” and “Key & Peele,” the Writers Guild of America West reached a “sweetheart” settlement with Viacom, Comedy Partners LLC, Central Productions LLC, LRF Development Company, Inc., and Hello Doggie, Inc. (collectively the “Employer Defendants”) between late 2019 and early 2020. However, the settlement wasn’t so “sweet.”

According to Martel, the “sweetheart” deal represents the Writers Guild of America’s “colossal failure” to represent its members fairly. The plaintiffs allege that Employer Defendants’ exploitation of these shows led to billions of streaming hours, making the settlement payment of the “sweetheart” deal inadequate compensation.

As an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer and producer, Martel seeks to ultimately represent a nationwide “class” of everyone whose claims for payment were released by the Writers Guild of America’s “sweetheart” deal.

Martel is represented by Neville L. Johnson, Douglas L. Johnson and Daniel B. Lifschitz of Johnson & Johnson LLP, Jeffrey A. Koncius and Melanie M. Palmer of Kiesel Law LLP, and Daniel L. Warshaw and Bobby Pouya of Pearson Simon & Warshaw LLP.

Counsel information for the WGA, Viacom, and the other defendants has not been provided at this time.

The case is Jay Martel v. Writers Guild of America West Inc. et al., case number 2:21-cv-02389, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is an entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The Firm has extensive experience handling cases involving contracts in the entertainment industry, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.

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