No joke: Louis C.K. loses court battle with union over pension plans

Louis C.K. accepts the Emmy award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for "Louie" onstage during the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles
Louis C.K. accepts the Emmy award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for "Louie" onstage during the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California August 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: Entertainment)(EMMYS-SHOW) - RTR43QCJ
Photograph by Mario Anzuoni — Reuters

The joke may be on comedian Louis C.K. this time around.

A judge in New York federal court on Thursday told Louis C.K.’s production company, Pig Newton Inc., that it owed unpaid contributions to union-affiliated benefit plans for the star’s work editing his Louie series on FX.

Louis C.K., a celebrity comedian, who’s real name is Louis Szekely, is Pig Newton’s sole owner, and the company employs him and Louie’s cast and crew under a collective bargaining agreements with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts. Those agreements require the company to make contributions on behalf of its covered employees to plans that provide pension, retirement, and health benefits to 55,000 individuals who work in the entertainment industry.

In 2013, those plans demanded that Pig Newton pay $28,000 plus damages for time logged by Szekely, who’s best known for his stand-up comedy specials and Louie, a TV comedy in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself

Thursday’s ruling stems from the production company’s attempt to block that claim. It filed a lawsuit against the directors of three union-affiliated benefit plans in October 2013, arguing that the $28,000 figure was too high since it was erroneously based on Szekely’s status as an employee-owner of Pig Newton. The production company said that the sum instead should have been calculated based on the time Szekely spent actually editing—a duty that accounts for just 15% of his working hours on the show, according to court documents.

(It’s worth noting, that Forbes named Louis C.K. the No. 5 top earning comedian in 2013 when he racked in $16 million.)

If district court Judge Katherine Polk Failla in the Southern District of New York is a fan of the comedian’s work she didn’t show it on Thursday. She ruled that because Szekely is the “controlling employee” of Pig Newton, the company must make full-time contributions no matter the number of hours he actually worked. “Controlling employee” provisions are included in the collective bargaining agreements at issue in this case to ensure that employees in charge of their own hours wouldn’t manipulate their schedules so they received the maximum amount of benefits while making the lowest possible contributions, according to court documents.

Lawyers for Pig Newton and the union benefit plans did not immediately return a request for comment.

By April 10, the directors of the benefit plans will file an analysis stating what Pig Newton owes for its unpaid contributions.

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