The lawsuit filed by David Hester, a former star of A&E channel’s hit reality TV show “Storage Wars,” appears headed for trial after Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson last week allowed Hester’s claim that he was wrongfully terminated to stand. Filed last December, the suit claims Hester was fired after complaining the show was rigged.
Hester alleges the show’s producers, Original Productions, frequently placed valuable items in self-storage units up for auction, including those owned by cast members or borrowed from antique dealers in exchange for an appearance on the show. The lawsuit also claims producers gave cash to “weaker” buyers on the show so they could bid on auctioned units they couldn’t otherwise afford.
A&E’s response accused Hester of trying to portray himself as a whistleblower and argued that he was really just angry about the way contract negotiations had progressed. Attorneys for the defendants also filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion arguing, in part, that “Storage Wars” was protected by the First Amendment.
A&E scored a victory in March when its lawyers convinced the court to reject the lawsuit’s claim of unfair business practices. Along with upholding a portion of the anti-SLAPP motion, the court also ordered Hester to pay $122,692 of the defendants' legal costs.
In allowing the wrongful-termination claim in his ruling last week, Judge Johnson allowed Hester’s pursuit to recover money over his exit from the show. He is suing for $750,000 in general damages and could seek more in punitive damages. The judge ruled that Hester’s wrongful-termination claim doesn’t have anything to do with A&E’s First Amendment rights.
At the court’s urging, Hester’s attorneys agreed to amend the complaint, withdrawing the original suit’s demand for an injunction to end the alleged rigged practices on the show.
The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the federal Communications Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law do not apply to the case. Judge Johnson said Hester would not have to prove a violation occurred in order to win a wrongful-termination claim, instead needing only to raise “reasonably based suspicions.”
"The allegations concerning federal and state law and the practices are necessary components of Plaintiff’s claims," the judge wrote in his ruling. "Without them one could not understand Plaintiff’s causes of action. Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages contains sufficient factual allegations. Whether or not Plaintiff can prove his allegations is not the function of a motion to strike."
A trial date has not been set.