EA hit with fresh class action suit over unpaid overtime

California's overtime exemption challenged in the case of game development engineers.

An engineer working for leading publisher Electronic Arts has become the second staff member to file a class action lawsuit against the company, seeking back pay, damages and penalties for unpaid overtime hours.

Leander Hasty, who has worked for the firm since mid-2003, filed his suit yesterday against the company, arguing that a special Californian law which exempts certain creative professionals from overtime regulations should not apply to EA's engineering staff.

The Californian law, instituted in 2000, creates an exemption for programmers who make more than $41 an hour and are working in creative or intellectual roles on advanced technology projects - a definition which Hasty's lawyers challenge in the case of EA employees.

Their case argues that EA's engineers "do not perform work that is original or creative," that they do not have management responsibilities and are seldom allowed to use their own judgement, according to extracts published by SiliconValley.com.

This is the second such case to be brought against EA on behalf of its employees. Earlier this year, a suit was filed by a programmer whose lawyers argued that game developers should be entitled to overtime like special effects engineers in the film industry, who are not covered by the software industry exemption clauses.

That case came in the midst of a storm of unwanted publicity about EA's employment practices, and provoked a response from the firm's vice president of human resources, Rusty Reuff, who admitted that "as much as I don't like what's been said about our company and our industry, I recognize that at the heart of the matter is a core truth."

"The work is getting harder, the tasks are more complex and the hours needed to accomplish them have become a burden," he continued. "We haven't yet cracked the code on how to fully minimize the crunches in the development and production process. Net, there are things we just need to fix."

Reflecting the fact that this problem extends much further throughout the industry than Electronic Arts' offices, the IGDA is planning a one-day seminar at the Game Developers' Conference next month in San Francisco which will address the "Quality of Life" issues facing game development staff.

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