Kanye West is facing two different class-action lawsuits over the alleged poor treatment of workers on his Christian opera Nebuchadnezzar, as Vice reports. Because while Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Yeezus said misclassify your employees as independent contractors, deny them overtime, and keep them waiting months for checks, and you will be a billionaire on Earth.
The ill-fated performance of Nebuchadnezzar took place on November 24th at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. It came on the heels of his execrable album Jesus Is King, and was announced only a week before it bowed. The mess began long before curtain — West put the wrong emperor on his invitations — and afterwards it was panned by critics. The show, such as it was, saw West sit to the side of the stage reading bible verses, while his Sunday Service Choir wailed in Latin, and Sheck Wes played the Babylonian emperor of the title with wordless screams and moans. If that sounds bad, the backstage drama was apparently worse.
The two lawsuits were filed in July and August, and represented the crew and cast respectively. The crux of both suits involves California’s “ABC test” which helps determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Can the worker perform the job whenever and however they like, “free from the control and direction of the hiring entity?” Then they’re a contractor. If you tell them when to show up and then supervise their work, they are an employee.
The nature of the work also matters, specifically whether it is “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” If your business is cooking food, and you hire someone to paint a sign, that might be outside the “usual course” of your work. If you are an entertainment company and you hire actors, dancers, and makeup artists, then as the law is written, it’s hard to argue they are anything other than employees.
Lawyers who spoke to Vice agree, with employment attorney Erick Kingsley saying, “As alleged, they seem like very strong suits.” This is especially relevant in regards to overtime pay, because while independent contractors don’t get additional compensation for overtime, employees do. The suits allege that the cast and crew of Nebuchadnezzar were denied meal breaks and rest breaks while being forced to work four hours of overtime a day.
Finally, West and his partners were reportedly months late in coming through with payments. Under California labor laws, they might be on the hook for “waiting time penalties,” which allow employees the right to collect up to 30 days of additional pay. The 500 performers who were given about $250 a day could potentially be owed $8,000 in penalties. Frank Kim, the lawyer representing the performers, said, “We’re hoping to get at least $6 million.” It is expected that the suit on behalf of the crew would also be in the millions.
Having said that, class action lawsuits are almost always settled out of court, because lawyer’s fees make lengthy court battles unpalatable to plaintiffs and defendants alike. Attorneys who spoke to Vice expect these suits to be settled for around $1 million. That’s peanuts to a billionaire like West, which is another reason he’s unlikely to fight it.
While last year was devoted to his religious awakening, this year has been spent in pursuit of the highest office in the land. But unlike other candidates, West conceded the 2020 presidential election on election day. He recently urinated on his Grammy Award during a tweet storm, said he will no longer release new music until he’s freed from his election contracts, and released the new song “Nah Nah Nah”.