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Workers Claim Magician Copperfield Cheats on Wages

LAS VEGAS (CN) - Magician David Copperfield stiffs his employees for overtime and uses his "might and influence" to intimidate those who challenge him, seven workers claim in a federal class action.

Lead plaintiff Jaroslav Jastrzebski sued David Copperfield, his companies David Copperfield's Disappearing Inc., Backstage Employment and Referral, and Imagine Nation Company, and Backstage CEO Christopher Kenner.

The seven named plaintiffs, all male, say they worked as stagehands and in other production jobs "The Magic of David Copperfield" show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.

They claim that Copperfield and his companies put together a system to make their overtime wages disappear.

"This system consisted of, inter alia, creating job titles for each and every employee that did not conform to reality," the complaint states. "For instance, the majority of the employees engaged at the show had a job title of 'Illusion Specialist/Creative Associate' even though they performed mundane functions of a stagehand, spotlight operator, light-board operator, electrician, show assistant, technician, etc. As another example, many employees responsible for running Copperfield's errands, doing laundry, shopping, moving, driving, etc. were given a job title of 'Executive Assistant' and were denied overtime pay.

"Every week such employees would receive a paycheck that did not specify the hours or days worked during each week, or even a classification of such employees.

"Yet, despite the fact that the paycheck did not specify the amount of time worked by each employee, it was the defendants' company-wide policy that the employees made a day-rate and that any absence of a given day would result in denial of pay.

"Indeed, for any workweek that the lead plaintiffs worked fewer days than their required quota, even if such an absence was necessitated by the defendants' operating requirements, the defendants deducted pay from the lead plaintiffs' paychecks accordingly."

The workers claim Copperfield did not maintain timekeeping records, forced them to work six to seven days a week for 10-14 hours a day without overtime pay, and deducted housing costs for some of them.

When they confronted Copperfield about the labor violations, "the defendants reminded the employees of their unique chance to work for Copperfield and demanded sacrifice," the complaint states. "In addition, the employees were constantly reminded about their economic dependence on Copperfield and threatened by Copperfield's might and influence."

When the plaintiffs sought legal help in December 2013, Copperfield threatened to sue three of them for violating their "secrecy agreements," and "to discourage remaining employees for pursuing their overtime claims, according to the complaint: "on January 3, 2014 the defendants commenced a frivolous lawsuit in the Eight Judicial District Court of Nevada (Case # A-14-693932C) with a retaliatory intent to punish the most vocal Plaintiffs Jastrzebski, England, and Smith, and to deter those employees who were still considering an action against the Defendants for overtime violations," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs seek money owed, an injunction, class damages and punitive damages for labor law violations, retaliation, failure to pay wages, civil conspiracy and abuse of process.

They are represented by Jakub P. Medrala.

Forbes magazine last year estimated Copperfield's net worth at $800 million - $300 million more than Madonna's - and said he rakes in about $50 million a year in ticket sales, plus merchandising, which he owns.

Copperfield's publicists offered a statement on behalf of an unnamed attorney for Copperfield. In past lawsuits, Copperfield has been represented by Philip Varricchio.

"Don't be fooled by these claims," the statement reads. "They have it all backwards. David and his company are the ones that have been wronged here. Evidence shows that David's trade secrets and intellectual property have been systematically revealed, and this lawsuit is smoke and mirrors to cover up a much bigger issue."

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