Infusing prosecutorial zeal with tiger’s blood and the bombast of an F-18, actor Charlie Sheen has included claims arising under the California Labor Code’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), Cal. Lab. Code §§ 2698-99.5, in his recently filed complaint against Warner Brothers, producer Chuck Lorre, and Lorre’s production company. (Read the full complaint here) Mirroring Sheen’s undeniably compelling expressive gifts, the complaint concedes and candidly recounts Sheen’s long history of public misbehavior and felonious law breaking, noting that “none of this resulted in Warner Bros. suspending Mr. Sheen.” Complaint at ¶ 3, Sheen v. Lorre, No. SC111794 (L.A. Sup. Ct. March 10, 2011). With unusual attention to story and suspense, the complaint then posits “What did?” (id.), and proceeds to theorize that what Mr. Lorre took as public affronts prompted him and Warner Bros. to breach their contract with Sheen and to effectively impose punitive consequences on him. The PAGA liability is premised on Warner Bros. having failed to pay Sheen all wages owed on termination, and the complaint’s PAGA allegations twice reference those “similarly situated” to Sheen, suggesting the prospect of a representative action, akin to a class action. See id. at ¶¶ 70-75. Although PAGA representative actions need not satisfy the familiar class certification criteria (numerosity, commonality, and so on), it is doubtful that a great many current or former Warner Bros. employees are “similarly situated” to Sheen.
The lawsuit follows the termination of Sheen’s Two and a Half Men contract, a result of Sheen’s increasingly acerbic daily salvos against Warner Bros. and Lorre and protracted verbal riffs, often on drive-time morning radio shows and typically including boasts of sexual and drug-using prowess. Sheen, who is represented by Martin Singer of the Century City-based Lavely & Singer firm, is seeking PAGA civil penalties in addition to compensatory and punitive damages under business tort and breach of contract claims. If the PAGA claims are successful, three-quarters of any recovery is required by statute be paid to the State (see Cal. Lab. Code § 2699 (2)(i)). While Sheen has not yet complied with PAGA’s notice requirements (see Cal. Lab. Code § 2699.3 (1)-(2)), there is the attestation in the unverified complaint that Sheen “intends to comply.” Sheen Complaint at ¶ 71. Sheen’s notification letter to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) will certainly be the most scrutinized PAGA notification letter of all time.
The complaint was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court’s tiny West District courthouse. Were the case to go to trial, it would be this courthouse’s first high-profile trial, in contrast to the downtown and Santa Monica state and federal courts that have been the sites for the famous trials of Charles Manson, John DeLorean, and O.J. Simpson (both criminal and civil).