A contestant on the second season of Netflix’s “Love Is Blind” reality series is suing the streamer and the show’s producers, charging them with a string of labor-law violations, including fostering “inhumane working conditions” and paying cast members less than minimum wage.
The lawsuit, filed by Jeremy Hartwell, alleges “Love Is Blind” producers plied the cast with alcohol and deprived them of food and water — while paying rates that were below Los Angeles County’s minimum wage. The suit, filed in California Superior Court in L.A., names as defendants Netflix, production company Kinetic Content and Kinetic’s casting company Delirium TV.
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“Mr. Hartwell’s involvement in Season 2 of ‘Love is Blind’ lasted less than one week. Unfortunately, for Mr. Hartwell, his journey ended early after he failed to develop a significant connection with any other participant,” Kinetic said in a statement to Variety. “While we will not speculate as to his motives for filing the lawsuit, there is absolutely no merit to Mr. Hartwell’s allegations, and we will vigorously defend against his claims.”
Hartwell, who is director at a mortgage company in Chicago, claims he spent several days recovering from the effects of sleep deprivation, lack of access to food and water and copious amounts of alcohol that he was provided. “Love Is Blind” Season 2 premiered on Netflix in February 2022.
According to the lawsuit, “Love Is Blind” contestants should have been classified under California state law as employees rather than independent contractors because producers dictated the timing, manner and means of their work. During the production, producers paid contestants a flat rate of $1,000 per week — despite forcing them to work up to 20 hours per day, seven days per week. That works out to as little as $7.14 per hour, well under the minimum wage in Los Angeles County of at least $15 per hour, according to the complaint.
Producers of the show “intentionally underpaid the cast members, deprived them of food, water and sleep, plied them with booze and cut off their access to personal contacts and most of the outside world. This made cast members hungry for social connections and altered their emotions and decision-making,” said attorney Chantal Payton of Payton Employment Law, the L.A.-based firm that is representing Hartwell.
Hartwell’s suit seeks class-action status on behalf of all participants in “Love Is Blind” and other non-scripted productions created by the defendants over the past four years. Payton Employment Law estimates the potential size of the plaintiff class to number more than 100 individuals.
According to Hartwell’s suit, the show’s contracts required contestants to agree that if they left the show before shooting was completed, they would have to pay $50,000 in “liquidated damages.” The lawsuit alleges that reality show cast members “either have a genuine fear of retaliation and harm to their reputation for any resistance to the orders of those holding the purse strings or they aren’t aware of their rights.”
Payton said in a statement provided by his attorneys, “Reality show production and casting companies exert a lot more control over the contestants than the law allows for a worker to truly be considered an independent contractor, especially in shows where cast members are supposedly searching for love.”
Kinetic Content, in addition to “Love Is Blind,” also produces the reality shows “The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On,” which debuted this year on Netflix, and “Married at First Sight,” which was created in 2014 and airs on Lifetime and streams on Netflix.
In “Love Is Blind,” the contestants — 15 men and 15 women — meet their dates from separate “pods” and converse through speakers, unable to see each other. Two contestants must get engaged before they are allowed to meet face-to-face, which for some participants leads all the way to an on-screen marriage and for others a wedding-day breakup. “Love Is Blind” just picked up a 2022 Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for structured reality program (and earned Emmys two noms in 2020) and has spawned Brazilian and Japanese versions.
Season 3 of “Love Is Blind,” shot in Dallas, is slated to hit Netflix later this year.
“The combination of sleep deprivation, isolation, lack of food, and an excess of alcohol all either required, enabled or encouraged by defendants contributed to inhumane working conditions and altered mental state for the cast,” reads Hartwell’s complaint. “At times, defendants left members of the cast alone for hours at a time with no access to a phone, food, or any other type of contact with the outside world until they were required to return to working on the production.”
Hartwell’s lawsuit seeks unpaid wages plus, financial compensation for missed meal breaks and rest periods, plus unspecified monetary damages for unfair business practices and civil penalties for labor code violations.
The suit was filed June 29 in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles. The case number is 22STCV21223. The court has scheduled a Sept. 16 initial status conference.
Emily Longeretta contributed to this report.
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