Netflix announced last week that it had hired Momita SenGupta as vice president of physical production for its original series. SenGupta had worked for 10 years at Viacom, most recently overseeing physical production at Comedy Central, Spike, MTV, and VH1.
In the suit filed on Oct. 5 in L.A. Superior Court, Viacom alleges that Netflix induced SenGupta to breach her contract, which was not set to expire until April 21, 2020.
“Netflix has signaled that it has no intention of complying with the law, and that its illegal attempts to induce Viacom employees to break their contracts without consequence will not be limited to SenGupta,” Viacom attorney Anthony J. Oncidi alleged. “Netflix’s tortious interference with an enforceable term employment agreement is neither trailblazing nor innovative — rather, it’s just another example of Netflix’s utter contempt for the law of the State of California.”
In 2016, 20th Century Fox sued Netflix for hiring two employees, Marcos Waltenberg and Tara Flynn, before their contracts were up. In that case, Netflix has argued that Fox’s contracts are unenforceable under California law. Netflix also alleges that Fox was selectively enforcing its contracts. The case is set to go to trial next year, and is being closely watched in the industry.
According to the suit, SenGupta notified Viacom that she was leaving the company on Sept. 28. Viacom responded by sending letters to her and to Netflix accusing her of breaching her employment agreement. Netflix’s counsel responded to Viacom on SenGupta’s behalf, and advised that “Netflix does not regard this dispute to be limited to Ms. SenGupta.”
In a statement, Viacom said, “We believe the employment contracts we use are valid under California law, and that other companies may not solicit and induce employees to break them. We think Netflix should be required to play by the same rules as every other company doing business in California, and we are taking the steps necessary to ensure they do.”
Netflix countered by faulting Viacom’s “legacy studio employment practices.”
“Netflix intends to vigorously defend against this action as we believe this contract as well as the legacy studio employment practices underlying it create unenforceable obligations under California law,” a Netflix spokesperson said.
Viacom is seeking an injunction that would bar Netflix from hiring its employees while they are under contract, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.