MANHATTAN (CN) – The child actress who is the voice of “Dora the Explorer” claims MTV Networks made her sign a “bizarre, impenetrable, unconscionable” contract, “swindling” her of hundreds of millions of dollars in residuals, merchandising fees, promotions and recordings. Caitlin Sanchez says she was 12 when MTV pressured her and her family into signing a contract without an attorney.
Sanchez sued Nickelodeon, MTV and Viacom Consumer Products in New York County Court.
Sanchez claims that her agent Jason Bercy, from Cunningham-Escott-Slevin-Doherty Talent Agency (CESD), sent her mother a final contract less than a half-hour before the signing deadline. Neither Bercy nor CESD are named as defendants in the 38-page complaint.
Sanchez claims that Bercy told her mother, Hilda, that “Nickelodeon would pay Caitlin $5,115 per episode, which would be for up to four hours of recording, plus far more substantial compensation in the form of residuals and merchandising.”
Sanchez says Bercy told them, “The key compensation to Caitlin would be in residuals and merchandise, since the Dora Brand re-runs episodes at least two dozen times a week and has made in the billions of dollars, a percentage of which, albeit a small one, would be compensation to Caitlin because of her product recordings and promotion of the Dora Brand.”
He told Sanchez’s mother that if they did not sign that day, Nickelodeon would “pass on Caitlin for the part of Dora,” according to the complaint.
“Despite high pressure that Nickelodeon, Bercy, and CESD were putting on the family, Hilda began to question some of the provisions of the contract that she only had an opportunity to briefly skim, and asked if the family could have more time to review it,” the complaint states. “Bercy told Hilda that the contract was ‘fine,’ and that she and her family should ‘just sign it.’ When she asked about seeking the advice of an attorney, he further advised her that there was ‘no time’ to have a lawyer review the contract because Nickelodeon ‘wanted everything signed right away.’ Bercy said that there was no need to have anyone look it over because he ‘regularly negotiates contracts just like this’ with Nickelodeon.
“Pressuring the family further, Bercy informed Hilda that the contract was supposed to be signed at 5:00 p.m. (despite being sent in final form to the Sanchez family after 5:00 p.m.), and that Nickelodeon had ‘extended’ the time for her family to sign to 5:30 p.m. He reiterated the time pressure and threats, saying that if Nickelodeon did not receive the contract by 5:30 p.m., they could not go forward with the promised ‘test record’ scheduled for three days later on Monday, April 9, 2007, and Caitlin would be passed on the part.
“Under extreme pressure, without counsel, and in reliance on the promises and advice of their agent, Hilda, Kevin, and Caitlin were forced to sign the fourteen-page convoluted and complicated Initial Nickelodeon Contract in less than twenty-two minutes. Hilda had no legal background and no college degree, and was the only one of Kevin and Hilda who actually had an opportunity to barely skim the initial Nickelodeon contract. Kevin, who arrived only minutes before they faxed the initial contract back to Nickelodeon, also had no legal background, and a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and a certificate in physical therapy. Caitlin was twelve years old.”
Under the “unconscionable” terms of the agreement, Nickelodeon used “convoluted” payment deduction clauses and additional free-services provisions to underpay Caitlin, forced her to work “hundreds of hours marketing the Dora Brand for free,” and withheld her residual payments and merchandise percentages, the complaint states.
She claims Nickelodeon forced her to attend 103 promotional events around the country, working “at least 500 hours” for free, except for a $40 a day travel stipend. “For this work, Caitlin should have been compensated, at a minimum, her implied, average hourly rate for episodes of $1,310.72, yielding, at least, $650,000 in underpayment,” the complaint states.
The defendants not pay Sanchez for “at least 325 re-runs of episodes,” which should have earned her $1.6 million, according to the complaint.
“In taking advantage of a talented young girl and her family, Nickelodeon along with Nickelodeon Consumer Products, have profited at least hundreds of millions dollars,” the complaint states.
“Since April 6, 2007, when Caitlin and her family signed the initial Nickelodeon contract, CESD and defendants have either perpetrated a series of purposeful misrepresentations or refused to provide Caitlin and her family essential information,” the complaint states. “Defendants did this, at first, to induce Caitlin to sign the Nickelodeon contract. But defendants continue to force her to work for Nickelodeon under their own unconscionable contract without adequate compensation. Nickelodeon and Nickelodeon Consumer Products, colluding with CESD, and/or Bercy, never intended to actually fulfill the promises they or their agents made to Caitlin, and instead, purposefully presented her a bizarre, impenetrable, unconscionable Contract which relies on undefined terms and references other agreements Caitlin never saw, pressured her to sign the contract, hid information relevant to Caitlin’s compensation, contorted the terms of the contract, and made material misstatements and omissions to mislead Caitlin and her family for three and a half years. Defendants used Caitlin, unjustly enriching themselves with millions of dollars in profits from the series and branded products (‘the Dora Brand’) which Caitlin performed and promoted.”
Caitlin Sanchez seeks punitive damages for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and declaratory judgment rescinding the original contract.
She is represented by John Balestriere with Balestriere Fariello.