By Tim Kenneally
Did former “Storage Wars” star Dave Hester get some good news from the legal system on Tuesday? Yuup.
Hester, who claims that he was fired from the A&E reality show after complaining that the show was rigged, will be allowed to go forward with his wrongful termination claim against the cable network, a judge said Tuesday.
In July, Hester was ordered to pay A&E and Original Productions — which produces “Storage Wars,” and was also named in Hester’s suit — $122,692 in legal fees, after those companies prevailed in an anti-SLAPP motion, filed in March, claiming that Hester’s suit violated their right to free speech.
However, while A&E was able to get the unfair business practices portion of Hester’s lawsuit tossed, Judge Michael Johnson found in a tentative ruling that, as an employment dispute, Hester’s wrongful termination claim can’t be thrown out based on A&E and Original’s First Amendment rights.
“Defendants’ motion is directed to Plaintiff’s 1st COA [cause of action] for wrongful termination of employment. In that cause of action, Plaintiff alleges that he complained to managers and producers about practices on the ‘Storage Wars’ program, and he was fired in retaliation for his complaints,” the ruling reads. “Defendants contend that the 1st COA arises from protected activity because Plaintiff was terminated after complaining about the contents and practices of the program. This does not meet their burden to establish protected activity.”
“The 1st COA raises an employment dispute. Of course the backdrop of that dispute is a television program, but that does not place this within the anti-SLAPP statute,” the ruling continues.
Hester’s attorney, Martin Singer, called A&E’s argument “absurd,” adding that Hester is “looking forward to having this case decided by a jury.”
“A&E’s position is that a whistleblower cannot sue a network or production company in the entertainment industry,” Singer told TheWrap in a statement Tuesday. “This position is absurd since the entertainment industry is not above the law. My client is looking forward to having this case decided by a jury.”
Hester sued in December 2012 with a bombshell complaint that alleged the show’s producers plant valuable items in storage lockers, which competitors then bid on, supposedly without knowing what’s inside them.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.