Employees readying class-action lawsuit against EA

A lawyer representing the plaintiffs addresses a proposed class-action lawsuit seeking unpaid overtime from the world's biggest third-party publisher.

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Yesterday, a blog entry from the spouse of a worker at Electronic Arts lashed out against the game giant. "The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm--seven days a week--with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm)," read the post, which went on to claim that EA employees receive no overtime, "comp" time, or additional vacation for their efforts.

The veracity of the claims in the online rant is difficult to confirm. However, GameSpot News decided to investigate the matter--and found that there might be some truth behind the blogger's anger.

Following a tip from an informed source, GameSpot contacted attorney Robert C. Schubert, a partner at the San Francisco law firm Schubert & Reed. He said that he has initiated legal proceedings to start a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a group of EA employees. "We are seeking unpaid overtime for a good number of [EA] employees who weren't [properly] paid," Schubert told GameSpot this afternoon. "EA contends they were exempt," Schubert said. "We contend otherwise."

To recover the money they feel is owed to them, said employees are trying to file a class-action lawsuit against EA seeking overtime pay. On July 29, the complaint Jamie Kirschenbaum vs. Electronic Arts, Inc. was filed in San Mateo Superior Court. Kirschenbaum is one of the members of The Sims 2 design team, although his current employment status at EA could not be clarified as of press time.

However, to initiate a class-action suit, a group must first be first certified as a "class" by the court. Schubert also said that until a class is certified by the court, he couldn't say how many individuals would seek to participate in the legal action. "We haven't been certified as a class yet," he said, admitting that certification "is a big battle."

And it looks like the lines for that battle are already being drawn. GameSpot was sent a copy of an e-mail purportedly sent to Electronic Arts employees over the summer, alerting them to the lawsuit. The e-mail went so far as to inform them that if they chose to participate in the lawsuit by joining the class, if it were to be certified, there would be no repercussions.

The e-mail, while not yet confirmed as authentic, frames the dispute between the proposed class and Electronic Arts as follows:

"On July 29, 2004, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Electronic Arts Inc. ("EA"). This communication responds to earlier e-mail communications from EA management regarding the litigation. The lawsuit alleges that EA improperly classified some of its employees, including 'animators,' 'modelers,' 'texture artists,' 'lighters,' 'background effects artists,' and 'environmental artists' as exempt from overtime, and therefore failed to pay those employees overtime compensation. Plaintiff's action seeks statutory penalties, damages, restitution, and injunctive relief.

"EA denies plaintiff's claim. It is EA's position that it treats its employees fairly and lawfully, and that it has properly classified its employees within the meaning of the law. The plaintiff is seeking to bring this lawsuit on behalf of himself and to represent a proposed class of current and former EA employees as a class action. The court has not yet certified this case as a class action.

"If the case is certified, members of the class will be notified as directed by the court, and may be given the opportunity to be excluded from the class ('opting out'), or to hire their own lawyers to represent them.

"EA will not retaliate against employees for exercising legal rights, including by participating in the proposed class action."

According to Schubert, the most recent action taken by the court was the denial of a motion by EA that would have stopped the certification process in its tracks.

E-mails to Electronic Arts requesting comment had not been returned at press time.

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