Judge grants class-action status in models' lawsuit

NEW YORK -- A federal judge Tuesday granted class-action status to a lawsuit accusing the nation's top modeling agencies of overcharging models commissions for finding them work.

Judge Harold Baer Jr. ruled that six little-known models from California can expand the lawsuit they brought in June 2002 to include others who want to allege the agencies violate antitrust laws.

The agencies argued that each model's case must be treated individually because each model is unique, with different looks, talent, gender.

But the judge rejected the argument, saying a sampling of contracts shows about 95 percent of models are charged the industry standard 20 percent commission rate.

The suit filed in Manhattan names Wilhelmina, Ford, Elite and other New York City-based agencies.

Calls for comment to lawyers representing the agencies and a lawyer for the models were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The lawsuit says the agencies conspired to fix commission rates for finding models work and charge unlawful expenses, forcing them to pay fees and expenses that are disallowed by federal antitrust laws.

The lawsuit states the conspiracy began in the 1970s, when the agencies secretly raised commissions above a 10 percent ceiling set by state law.