Louisa Raske, a 31 year old, American model, filed a lawsuit against major modeling agencies, Ford Models, Elite Model Management and Wilhelmina (and potentially some others), stemming from deceptive accounting practices that have allegedly robbed models of royalty payments. The agencies have reportedly been concealing funds that they received on behalf of their model clients. Raske and other unnamed models make up the $20 million class action lawsuit that was filed in the New York Supreme Court recently.

Why didn’t Raske or her fellow models bring a suit sooner? There are quite a few possibilities. First: many, many models are 14 or 15-year old girls, who speak English only as a second language, and quite often, speak very little English at all. The lawsuit alleges that the models were discouraged from bringing suits unless they wanted to be blacklisted in the New York modeling industry. Further, the form contracts that the girls sign with these big agencies apparently force them to sign away their rights to bring lawsuits against the agencies. This is not surprising, as young models have absolutely no bargaining power when they first sign on with an agency. The good news: such contract clauses will almost definitely be considered void in court, as they amount to contracts of adhesion. This means that the contract is imbalanced so greatly in favor of one party (the agency) at the expense of the other party (the model) that there is a strong implication it was not freely negotiated.

The full list of defendants includes: Next Management LLC; Wilhelmina Models Inc.; Wilhelmina International Ltd.; Ford Models Inc.; Elite Model Management – New York LLC; DNA Model Management LLC; IMG Models Inc.; Trump Model Management LLC; MC2 dba aka Karin Models of New York LLC; Major Model Management Inc.; Silent Models LLC; Fusion Model Management Inc.; Marilyn Model Management Inc.; 1 Management LLC Red Model Management Inc.; Request Model Management Inc.; Supreme Model Management LLC; VNY Model Management Inc.; Men Women NY Model Management Inc.; Men Women NY Model Management Inc.; APM Models Inc.; Q Model Management dba aka New York Model Management Inc.; Click Model Management Inc.; S Model Management LLC; Elite Model Management Corporation; NYC Management Group Inc.; Does; McCann-Erickson USA Inc.; McCann-Erickson Corporation; Ogilvy + Mather Partners Inc.; Publicis Inc.; JWT LLC; Laird + Partners New York LLC; Leo Burnett Company Inc.; Saatchi + Saatchi North America Inc.; Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners Inc.; Does; L’Oreal USA Inc.; Revlon Inc.; Garnier LLC; Coty Inc.; Aveda Corporation; Sephora USA Inc.; Maybelline LLC.

This is unfortunately a familiar issue in the modeling industry because unless a model is a big name, she (or he) has very little, if any, power to negotiate with the agency regarding the terms of payment. You may recall that earlier this year, Hayden Holt, Jessica Lee and Kayla Hill, three 17-year old models filed a lawsuit against Emmanuel New York Models owner, Aristeo Tengco, stemming from numerous claims including that Tengco withheld the models’ earnings. More to come on the unfolding class action suit …