Models file class action against modeling agents

Posted on: November 6th, 2012 by Steve Larson

A $20 million class-action suit has been filed against some of New York’s top modeling and advertising agencies, including Ford Models, Next Management and Wilhelmina. The suit, filed on behalf of 31-year-old American model Louisa Raske and other unnamed male and female models, claims that the modeling agencies failed to provide accurate account statements and concealed money received on the models’ behalf.

The main problem, the suit asserts, is that the agencies mix their own funds with the money held on the model’s behalf, which allows them to use that money on their own behalf, with “little fear of being discovered.”

Another issue is that models aren’t represented by the same agency for their entire careers. Typically, a contract lasts about three years, and then the model moves on to another management company. So, if for example, an advertising agency wants to continue to use a model’s photo on a particular product after she has left the modeling company, the modeling company will simply forge her signature or pretend that it had contacted the model and was “legally allowed to move forward with the business transaction,” the suit alleges. And since models aren’t aware that their image is being used again, they might not know that they are owed more money and so they “never demand or receive payment” according to the complaint.

Since so many models are teenagers who speak English as a second language (if at all), many are unaware of their rights, the suit contends. The lawsuit also claims that the big agencies require models to sign contracts that forbid them from suing the agencies, and that models were told they would be “blacklisted” from the New York modeling world if they brought suit.

This isn’t the first class action lawsuit against modeling agencies. In 2005, a New York federal judge approved a nearly $22 million settlement in favor of five former models who alleged that modeling agencies banded together to fix rates and commissions so the models couldn’t jump ship and get a better deal.