"Soul Man" Case Settled

Singer Sam Moore has won a protracted lawsuit brought against retirement fund trustees of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). The settlement of the nine-year-old case was announced in an Atlanta federal court on Wednesday, December 5.

Moore, the Sam of legendary soul act Sam & Dave, was instrumental in litigation that involved 14 other artists, including the estate of the late singer Mary Wells. The artists and their attorneys agreed to settle for $8.4 million in a case that eventually found union members battling administrators of their own retirement fund. Attorney's fees could consume more than $2 million of the settlement, according to entertainment industry reports.

Moore initiated his one-man crusade in 1993. The case became a class-action suit after other artists joined, with the union dropped from the list of defendants after the first year. The plaintiffs had charged that for more than three decades, trustees of the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds had failed to ensure that record companies were properly paying contributions into recording artists' pension plans. In March of 2002, the AFTRA Funds, a legal entity separate from the union, had proposed an $8 million settlement. The Funds have a value in excess of $2 billion, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The settlement was reached in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, presided over by Judge Clarence Cooper. It frees the AFTRA Funds from all charges in the case (Moore, et al v. AFTRA Funds, et al), but gives artists the right to bring challenges against the Funds in the future.

AFTRA national executive director Greg Hessinger told reporters that provisions of the settlement would usher in a new era of "artist-friendly arbitration procedures" that would "facilitate the processing of claims filed by recording artists." AFTRA had intervened in the suit "so that no affected artist would be deprived of the fundamental right of due process," he said.

As part of the settlement, AFTRA will hire a full-time ombudsman to assist retirement plan participants in obtaining information and filing claims. "That person will be a part of the AFTRA national staff, adding a significant layer to the representation services we already provide to members," Hessinger explained.

AFTRA's 80,000 members include recording artists, television actors, broadcasters, and other professionals in the media and entertainment industries. Union contracts require that employers make contributions to the AFTRA Funds to provide health and retirement benefits for performers and artists who work in AFTRA’s jurisdictions.

Still in litigation are Moore's several lawsuits brought against record companies for underpaid royalties, unpaid pension contributions, and other accounting irregularities. Plaintiffs in those cases are defending themselves against alleged violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) acts.

Sam & Dave was one of the most popular acts of the 1960s, with dozens of multi-platinum hit records including "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Coming." Their music was reprised in the Dan Akroyd/John Belushi/John Goodman Blues Brothers films.