In the popular Netflix dating show “Love Is Blind” and its two international spinoffs, participants date one another from the vantage point of “pods,” enclosed rooms. The show says that the experience of being in these small, carpeted spaces can foster romantic connections between cast members.
But Jeremy Hartwell, a Season Two cast member, is telling a different story about the experience of being on “Love Is Blind.”
In a lawsuit filed against Netflix, production company Kinetic Content (which also makes “Married at First Sight”) and casting company Delirium TV on June 29, Hartwell details “inhumane working conditions” he allegedly experienced during his time on the show.
Kinetic Content responded in a statement to TODAY: “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. 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, the director of a mortgage company, said in his Netflix-provided bio that he signed up for “Love Is Blind” so he could focus on “just being (himself).” The lawsuit said he returned to Chicago “feeling like a zombie.”
The lawsuit is a proposed class action on behalf of all “Love Is Blind” participants as well as other non-scripted shows created by the defendants, including Netflix. The lawsuit doesn’t specify the number of the plaintiff class, but says it could be over 100 individuals.
According to the lawsuit, the producers of “Love Is Blind” intentionally “altered cast members’ emotions and decision making” through a variety of factors.
“They 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 Hartwell’s attorney, Chantal Payton of Payton Employment Law, PC, of Los Angeles, per the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that “the only drinks regularly provided to the cast were alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, energy drinks, and mixers.” Water and other hydrating drinks were only given to the cast during the day, per the lawsuit.
As with many other dating shows, contestants were cut off from the outside world during filming. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants took away cast members’ phones, identification cards, credit cards and wallets upon their arrival to the filming location.
From there, the contestants’ whereabouts were monitored. According to the lawsuit, contestants had to remain at the hotel or production studio. The lawsuit claims the defendants withheld the key to the hotel room and told hotel staff not to provide contestants with food.
Show contracts, according to the lawsuit, said contestants would be penalized by requiring to pay $50,000 in “liquidated damages” if they left the show early.
The lawsuit argues that these tactics were twofold: To “control the participants’ conduct” and to “(elicit) irrational behavior for entertainment value in the final project,” as Laurel N. Holmes, Managing Partner at Payton Employment Law, PC phrased the claims.
The lawsuit is centered on the argument that the defendants exploited contestants by misclassifying them as “independent contractors,” not as employees. The lawsuit says the contestants should have been classified as employees.
“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,” Payton, Hartwell’s lawyer, said in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also pointed to salary. The contestants were paid $1,000 per week, up to $8,000 total. The contestants worked up to 20 hours a day. According to the lawsuit, this falls under the minimum wage.
“These workers were effectively [paid] as little $7.14 per hour which is less than half of the applicable minimum wage rate of $15.00 per hour, less than one-third of the minimum overtime rate of $22.50 per hour, and less than one-fourth of the minimum double-time rate of $30.00 per hour pursuant to the applicable Los Angeles City and County minimum wage ordinances,” the lawsuit said.
Allegations include failure to pay minimum wage and overtime; failure to provide meal periods, uninterrupted rest periods and wage statements; failure to pay wages promptly upon termination; and unfair business practices.
Damages sought include unpaid wages; financial compensation for missed meal breaks and rest periods; restitution for unfair business practices and civil penalties for labor code violations.
TODAY has reached out to the defendants for comment.
CORRECTION 7/14 at 4:35 p.m.: Fixed a misattribution of a statement from Kinetic Content, originally attributed to Netflix.