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Cast of 'Modern Family' engages in contract dispute

Greenbelt area "Modern Family" viewers may have heard that the cast of the hit show recently filed a lawsuit against the show's producer in an effort to get out of their employment contracts.

Television contracts are somewhat different than an ordinary contract, as they usually range in duration from five to seven years and typically provide for limited pay increases of 4 to 6 percent each year. Compensation may be anywhere from $40,000 per episode to more than $100,000 for more accomplished actors. While that might seem like a great gig to most of us in Maryland, it is still vital that these contracts have legal merit.

Furthermore, actors might sometimes feel that they are being shortchanged when a television series takes off and a contract restricts them from receiving any additional monetary gain from this.

In the case of the "Modern Family" stars, they reportedly argue that the contracts violate a California labor law that states contracts may not last more than seven years.

Actors often attempt to renegotiate their contracts when a show is doing as well as "Modern Family." The show reportedly brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue and reruns have been sold for $1.5 million per episode.

However, just as in any business, filing a lawsuit may not put the employer in the best mood for contract renegotiation.

Often, with the assistance of an employment law attorney, contract disputes may be handled with mediation and arbitration, outside of court. However, sometimes litigation is the only way to be taken seriously and to achieve results.

Another lesson here is that it is often wise to negotiate a suitable contract in the beginning instead of having to sue to renegotiate it later on. By working with an attorney when entering into an employment agreement, many Maryland residents are able to do this successfully.

Source: LA Times, "'Modern Family' stars play hardball in salary dispute," Joe Flint, July 25, 2012

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