July 1, 2019

A Cup of Joe | Model Agency Stiffs Agent Claiming They Never Signed Their Own Employment Contract


Homeowner says, “I promise to pay you $50 if you promise to shovel the snow in my driveway. Deal?”

You say, “Yup.”

The snow is shoveled beautifully. You go to get paid for the great job you did but the homeowner says, “I’m not paying. We don’t have a written contract. Sue me!”

Put a pin in that scenario for now.

Our latest case is about a broken promise.

This week, Cup of Joe touches on legal dealings in the cryptic world of modeling where we meet the famous scout, Michael Lord. Michael is a former model himself, who has worked internationally with some of the top model agencies including Nathalie Models and New York Model Management.

The Marilyn Agency (handled Claudia Schiffer), located down at Union Square in Manhattan, wanted Michael to work for them in a bad way. They told Michael that if he left his job they would pay him a salary of $190,000, plus bonuses and profit sharing. Michael worked with the Marilyn Agency for 6 months and then he was fired. Without cause.  The Marilyn Agency provided Michael with a written contract that stated that if Michael was fired “without cause” he would be paid six months' severance. Michael had signed the contract but the Marilyn Agency did not sign it. The Marilyn Agency told Michael that he was not entitled to his severance because, although Michael had signed it, they had not. In effect, they told Michael, “Sue me!”

And so he did.

Testimony of Michael Lord:

Q: How are you employed?

A: I am a scouter in the modeling industry.

Q: What’s the typical day like for a scouter?

A: There is a difference between a street scout and a scouting agent. A street scout will spend their day out around the city and events happening looking for brand new faces that have potential to model. A scouting agent will meet models sent into the agency by street scouters and other mother agents. My schedule varies depending on my travel plans. When I am not on business trips to foreign countries I am usually back in the agency working by phone and email. My official title is director of scouting and international relations which means I work a lot on strategic planning, back-end business development and growth for the agency. My job offers a lot of variety and is anything but boring.

Q: Where you working when you were approached by the Marilyn Agency.

A: Yes. I was working in the U.K.

Q: Were you happy at your prior job?

A: Yes, I was. But the idea of working in New York was appealing. And because I was not sure that it would work out, I negotiated a 6-month incentive in case the Agency did not like working with me.

Q: And was that a key term in your mind?

A: Yes, it was. I told them that without it that I would not come to New York.

Q: Did the Agency provide you with a contract?

A: Yes, they did. In August.

Q: Did you sign the contract?

A: Immediately. And a board member promptly replied, by email, "Welcome aboard. We'll countersign over the next few days." So, I moved my things to New York City.

Q: Did the Agency send you version of the contract signed by them?

A: No. Never.

Q: Did you begin working with them anyway?

A: I did.  In September. And then they fired me for absolutely no reason in February.

Q: Did they pay you the 6-month severance?

A: No. They said they didn’t have to because they never signed our contract.

The Court’s Ruling:

The Court found that the Agency did not sign the contract. However, the fact that the agency never signed the agreement is not an impediment to a finding that the parties intended to be bound. In fact, the evidence clearly established both parties intent to enter into a contract and the contract's terms. Also, the contract had no provision stating that the parties may convey their assent only by affixing signatures.

Finally, and this brings us back to the snow shoveling case, the Court found that the Agency could not deny the existence of an agreement where there was a clear promise made by the Agency, and the Agency knew that Michael was relying on the Agency’s promise. And that as a result of that reliance Michael was injured.

Michael wins against the Agency and gets his severance pay.

What’s fair is fair. The shoveler relied on the homeowners promise to pay and spent the next few hours working very hard to do a good job. And the shoveler reasonably relied on that promise.

The snow shoveler also wins.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_05093.htm

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