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CNN Settles Lawsuit Filed Over Union Negotiation Refusal, Agrees to Pay More Than $70 Million


CNN has agreed to pay out more than $70 million to settle a massive, decade-and-a-half-old labor dispute with camera operators. The case raised hot-button issues about labor unions, and joint liability among employers.

More than 200 camera operators, broadcast engineers, and other technicians sued CNN when it laid them off and brought non-union production staff in-house. CNN then refused to negotiate with the employees’ union, laying the groundwork for claims that it had violated federal labor laws.

The lawsuit (started back in 2004) raised a number of important legal questions during the 82-day hearing. Among those issues was whether CNN should be deemed a “joint employer” for freelance staffers who’d worked for multiple companies– as is routinely done in the broadcast news industry.  Determinations of which companies are “joint employers” for labor purposes are initially made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – but can be inconsistent across presidential administrations when political differences control individual interpretations of administrative regulations.

The case went before the NLRB during the Obama administration; at the time, the NLRB took a broad view about what constituted “joint employers.” In 2017, a three-judge panel of D.C. Circuit Court (which included Judges Merrick Garland, Brett Kavanaugh, and Cornelia Pillard) affirmed the NLRB’s ruling, although there was significant disagreement among the judges as to reasoning. Litigation continued over CNN’s financial responsibility — until the network and its former employees reached a tentative agreement. The $70 million-plus settlement is still in early stages, and must be approved by the NLRB before it is finalized.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated from its original version to correct references to the Circuit Court’s ruling.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos