Although you could ascribe a number of interesting characteristics to actor Charlie Sheen these days, “selfish” isn’t one of them, at least if you believe some of his now famous complaint. 

In the lawsuit the former “Two and a Half Men” sitcom star filed March 10 against the show’s producers and WB Studio Enterprises, Inc., Sheen seeks to recover damages for the defendants’ alleged failure to pay him and other cast and crew members for the remaining eight episodes of the show’s season.  He alleges the failure to pay the remaining wages is in violation of the California Labor Code and its “Private Attorney General Act,” which he claims allows him to bring the claim not only for himself, but on behalf of all other similarly situated current and former employees of the studio.

Sheen’s complaint alleges:  “Defendants Chuck Lorre, one of the richest men in television who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, believes himself to be so wealthy and powerful that he can unilaterally decide to take money away from the dedicated cast and crew of the popular television series Two and a Half Men (the “Series”) in order to serve his own ego and self-interest, and make the star of the Series the scapegoat for Lorre’s own conduct. … By this Complaint, Charlie Sheen is not only seeking payment of his own compensation for the Series, but he is also pursuing claims for the benefit of the entire cast and crew to get paid for the balance of the season’s episodes.”  (Complaint at Paragraph 2, emphasis supplied.) 

How considerate of him.  One has to wonder, however:  How many other studio workers could be similarly situated to Charlie Sheen, who claims that he’s hooked on a drug called “Charlie Sheen” and is living with two goddesses?

Under the Private Attorney General Act, others working on the show need not have tiger blood running in their veins to be a part of the action.  Under the statute, many argue that the claim need not meet the traditional class action requirements of commonality, typicality, numerosity and adequacy of representation by the named plaintiff.  Instead, they claim that the Act allows private citizens to pursue civil penalties for violations of the state’s Labor Code without having to certify a class, relieving California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency from having to file suit itself.  If penalties are assessed, they are split between the LWDA and the employee bringing suit.  The LWDA receives 75% of the penalties and the employee receives the other 25%.  Cal. Lab. Code § 2699(i).

If Sheen prevails on his claim in this case, there may be civil penalties as large as $100 for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation and $200 for each aggrieved employee per pay period for each subsequent violation.  Sheen’s complaint doesn’t say how many current or former aggrieved employees there are, so how big the penalty could be is yet unknown.

The thing is, even if Sheen prevails, no one is sure any of the other cast and crew members will see a dime of it.  California law is unclear on whether the 25% of the penalty that is awarded to the plaintiff is split among all similarly situated employees or whether the plaintiff gets to keep all of it.

So whether Sheen will be able to help two and a half men and then some remains to be seen.

The Bottom Line:  Even strange cases can raise thorny class action issues.