A 57-year-old cross-dressing Madonna impersonator, who appeared as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent wearing a purple leotard, knee-high boots and blonde wig, has filed claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination on grounds of age, disability and sexual orientation against the show at a London employment tribunal.
Partially deaf Philip Grimmer, from Ilford, Essex, said: “I was discriminated against by Simon Cowell, the two presenters Ant and Dec and by one of the assistant producers. They singled me out for unfair and worse treatment and comments than other contestants.”
Simon Cowell branded Mr Grimmer’s performance “monstrous” and “horrendous”, saying: “Madonna at 95 would look better and dance better than you.”
Mr Grimmer is also unhappy about Ant and Dec introducing him as a “successful drag queen” and “a man who likes dressing up as a woman” in legal papers submitted to the tribunal.
Court papers show he is demanding £250,000 in damages for lost earnings and injury to feelings after his exit in the show’s semi-final.
A tribunal spokesperson said: “We received the claim on August 4. His claim was about unfair dismissal, in the remit of employment law, on the basis that his audition was the equivalent of a job interview.”
While Mr Grimmer’s claim may appear tenuous at first blush, last year the French Supreme Court awarded three former Temptation Island contestants Ä8,000 (£6,900) in unpaid overtime for hours spent ‘working’ on the show.
In the wake of the judgement, performers’ union Equity launched a campaign to end “cheap exploitation” in reality shows.
Equity said TV companies were “exploiting and humiliating” vulnerable contestants desperate to break into the entertainment industry by making them work without pay, all the while making huge profits.
But Talkback Thames, the production company behind Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, believes contestants have no employment rights.
“They are talent competitions,” a statement read. “They are not employed … Contestants choose to enter to compete for a substantial prize – £100,000 and a performance on the Royal Variety Show for Britain’s Got Talent and a recording contract worth £1,000,000 on The X Factor.”
Employment law expert Julie Morris has questioned this position, however:
“While [TV companies] might feel pretty comfortable that no [employment] relationship arises during the auditions stage [of a show], the position is not quite so clear when the competition moves to the final stages.
“An employment tribunal would look at the obligations that contestants and the television company have to each other; for example, whether contestants can be replaced, what level of control companies can exert over them and if they are provided with equipment to ‘work’.”
- Cowell put-downs spark lawsuit (Press Association)
- Cowell discrimination case will not go to tribunal (BBC News)
- Susan Boyle: employee, worker or merely a contestant? (The Solicitor)
- Susan Boyle breakdown casts long shadow over reality TV (The Solicitor)
- Susan Boyle breakdown: other legal ramifications (The Solicitor)
- Employment law Q&A (Community)
- Employment law (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Find an employment solicitor (Contact Law)
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