November 12, 2004 12:07 PM PST

Electronic Arts faces overtime lawsuit

Just as a Web log posting this week has triggered a hail of criticism about harsh work conditions in the game industry, game-publishing giant Electronic Arts is being sued for allegedly failing to pay overtime wages.

Attorney Robert Schubert, partner at San Francisco law firm Schubert & Reed, said 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 said. "EA contends they were exempt. We contend otherwise."

On July 29, Jamie Kirschenbaum filed suit against EA in San Mateo Superior Court. Kirschenbaum is an image production artist, according to one of the attorneys filing the case on his behalf.

An EA spokeswoman on Friday said in an e-mail, "We prefer not to comment on issues involved in litigation."

Word of the lawsuit comes as an anonymous blog posting on Wednesday blasted EA and generated a flurry of complaints about punishing work hours in the industry. "The current mandatory hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.--seven days a week--with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30 p.m.)," read the post, whose author claimed to be the "significant other" of an EA employee.

An EA spokeswoman on Thursday said the company did not normally comment on rumor.

Hundreds of comments followed the initial blog posting, with a number of responders saying EA isn't alone in the way it allegedly treats developers. "White-collar slavery is alive and well in the games industry," one anonymous responder wrote.

The complaints echo findings from a survey earlier this year conducted by the International Game Developers Association. "Crunch time is omnipresent, during which respondents work 65 to 80 hours a week," the association said. "Overtime is often uncompensated."

The lawsuit claims that EA failed to pay overtime compensation required by California law "to its employees whose primary duties are to produce, copy or install images designed by others into video games, using commercial or in-house software computer programs. Such persons include 'animators,' 'modelers,' 'texture artists,' 'lighters,' 'background effects artists' and 'environmental artists.'"

Todd Heyman, another attorney representing Kirschenbaum in the case, said the pay situation for people creating images that go into video games is very different from their counterparts in the movie world. "If you work in the film industry, you get paid overtime," he said. "If you work in the video game industry, you don't--even though the jobs are essentially identical."

To initiate a class action suit, a group must first be 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," said Schubert, who admitted that certification "is a big battle."

It appears the lines for that battle are already being drawn. CNET 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 to be authentic, frames the dispute between the proposed class and Electronic Arts as follows:

"The lawsuit alleges that EA improperly classified some of its employees (as) exempt from overtime and therefore failed to pay those employees overtime compensation. Plaintiff's action seeks statutory penalties, damages, restitution and injunctive relief...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...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 class certification process in its tracks.

20 comments

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The employees will win this case.
Employees are either hourly, or Salary exempt. If an employee is Salary exempt the company may net require they be staffed from say 8 am to 4 pm, only give them task s to complete in which ever time frame they see fit.

Many companies see salary exempt as "free overtime" but this is not at all the case. After working 80 hour weeks in the ARMY for $20,000/year I would never work anther salary job.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Reply Link Flag
su the army
su the army
Posted by (187 comments )
Link Flag
The employees will win this case.
Employees are either hourly, or Salary exempt. If an employee is Salary exempt the company may net require they be staffed from say 8 am to 4 pm, only give them task s to complete in which ever time frame they see fit.

Many companies see salary exempt as "free overtime" but this is not at all the case. After working 80 hour weeks in the ARMY for $20,000/year I would never work anther salary job.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Reply Link Flag
su the army
su the army
Posted by (187 comments )
Link Flag
More coverage on 'EA Spouse Speaks Out Against Game Industry Practices'
Extensive coverage has been blogged here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com/2004/11/ea-spouse-speaks-out-against-game.html" target="_newWindow">http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com/2004/11/ea-spouse-speaks-out-against-game.html</a>
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New updates on various sites covering 'EA Spouse'
Continuing coverage at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com</a>
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
More coverage on 'EA Spouse Speaks Out Against Game Industry Practices'
Extensive coverage has been blogged here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com/2004/11/ea-spouse-speaks-out-against-game.html" target="_newWindow">http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com/2004/11/ea-spouse-speaks-out-against-game.html</a>
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New updates on various sites covering 'EA Spouse'
Continuing coverage at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com</a>
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
EA not the only one
..
Posted by jc94107 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
EA not the only one
..
Posted by jc94107 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
High Turnover Rate
in one video game publisher located in the bay area.
Posted by jc94107 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
High Turnover Rate
in one video game publisher located in the bay area.
Posted by jc94107 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not just gaming industry
Commericial software companies do the same thing to meet
tight schedules. Ask most engineers in the silicon valley.
Posted by Venturabumm (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not just gaming industry
Commericial software companies do the same thing to meet
tight schedules. Ask most engineers in the silicon valley.
Posted by Venturabumm (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
date a cheerleader or live in trailer home hacking linux
had they dated their cheerleaders they would have gotten into the fraternity and then they could live in greenwich and gamble on wallstreet with everyones 401k

live in a trailer home and hack linux
Posted by (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
date a cheerleader or live in trailer home hacking linux
had they dated their cheerleaders they would have gotten into the fraternity and then they could live in greenwich and gamble on wallstreet with everyones 401k

live in a trailer home and hack linux
Posted by (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No doubt the case is true
I have absolutely no doubt that the employees case is probably much worse than stated. The games industry has for many many years as a whole taken the view that "you job is your reward" and pay rates tend to be low very low.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No doubt the case is true
I have absolutely no doubt that the employees case is probably much worse than stated. The games industry has for many many years as a whole taken the view that "you job is your reward" and pay rates tend to be low very low.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds familiar
No lawsuit in the works, but my fellow employees are being scammed on double time and overtime hours that they are supposed to be paid for. The programmers know that they have to work long hours when there is a deadline coming up, however, they also do it believing that they will be paid for it, as they should. What makes it okay to move someones hours from double or overtime to regular time. Yes, there are California state laws that are supposed to regulate how many hours are worked in a day, but there are also laws for not paying employees right? Anyone have comments on this?
Posted by SoTruSD (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds familiar
No lawsuit in the works, but my fellow employees are being scammed on double time and overtime hours that they are supposed to be paid for. The programmers know that they have to work long hours when there is a deadline coming up, however, they also do it believing that they will be paid for it, as they should. What makes it okay to move someones hours from double or overtime to regular time. Yes, there are California state laws that are supposed to regulate how many hours are worked in a day, but there are also laws for not paying employees right? Anyone have comments on this?
Posted by SoTruSD (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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