Friday, November 19, 2010

Connecticut: No Complaint Paper Trail in WWE Independent Contractor Investigation

This morning I got an email from Heidi Lane, principal attorney in the Office of Program Policy at the Connecticut Department of Labor. Lane was responding to the public records request I had sent to Acting Labor Commissioner Linda Agnew.

Lane wrote: “A search of the records of the CT Department of Labor (I am unable to speak for other state agencies) reveals that no DOL-83 has been filed concerning World Wrestling Entertainment, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., WWE or any other name variation relating to this company.”

Next week I will endeavor to confirm that the same is true of the other four offices with jurisdiction over misclassification investigations: Office of the Attorney General, Office of the State’s Attorney, Department of Revenue Services, and Workers’ Compensation Commission. For good measure, I’ll throw in the Joint Enforcement Commission on Employee Misclassification, which I believe is only advisory.

Also next week, I’ll be reporting further on the status of this matter, with the goal of preventing it from dribbling off into vaporware, like the abruptly dropped 2007 investigation by Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

In my view, Attorney General (and now Senator-elect) Richard Blumenthal has a special obligation to explain publicly where this investigation originated and where it is going. After all, earlier this year, when the enabling state legislation on misclassification was passed, Blumenthal was front and center. His March 17 press release announced a “crackdown” on classification abuse. To be clear, I think that was a good thing.

During the general election campaign against Linda McMahon, former CEO of WWE, Blumenthal suggested that the state audit of WWE (which had been brought to light by Hearst reporter Brian Lockhart) was being handled by the Labor Department. Blumenthal said he was not involved, and added – in what I took as more of a rhetorical dig against McMahon than a representation of the investigation’s status – that his office had jurisdiction only over “civil,” not “criminal,” matters.

Before proceeding to next week’s round of reporting, I have one quick observation on the apparent absence of DOL-83 referral forms in the Connecticut WWE investigation. This would mean that, at least so far, no wrestler has come forward with a complaint. But there’s no reason why wrestlers who have worked for the McMahons can’t act now and add their submissions to the WWE Labor Department investigative file. I’m talking about current wrestlers, if any of them have the guts to do something to help reform and improve their industry. And I’m talking about former WWE performers, such as Scott Levy (“Raven”) and Mike Sanders, two of the three plaintiffs in a 2008 federal lawsuit on the independent contractor issue that got thrown out on technicalities.

I wish I could exhort the third plaintiff, Chris Klucsarits (“Chris Kanyon”), to step up and make his voice heard, too. Unfortunately, Chris is prematurely dead – like too many pro wrestlers, whose misclassification as independent contractors is the opening wedge in scrutiny of this industry’s horrific occupational health and safety standards.

Irv Muchnick

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