MIDTOWN — Three professional models claimed they were exploited for years by some of the top agencies, including Ford Models, Wilhelmina and Next Management, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Monday.
Models Shawn Pressley, Roberta Little and Mel Platzke said the agencies “literally steal millions of dollars” from their models through schemes like deducting “significant amounts” from paychecks for bogus expenses, erroneously classifying them as “independent contractors” to avoid labor laws and refusing to pay them the full amount owed under contracts with clients, the suit claimed.
“The modeling industry has a glamorous façade, but scratch the surface and its dark underbelly comes to light,” their lawyers wrote.
“Long past are the days when top models commanded thousands of dollars for each fashion show. Today, models may earn only several hundred dollars for a substantial volume of work — or they may just get paid in clothes rather than currency.”
The models also said the agencies purposely delayed paychecks so models “would be forced to borrow money” from them, which the agencies would typically charge 5 percent interest on.
“Many of the models were young men and women from modest backgrounds who moved to a new state to begin their modeling careers, usually without substantial assets or financial resources,” the lawsuit read.
The agencies also tried to control their models’ appearance outside of work and “maintained tabs on their behavior, appearance and dress” through social media accounts like Instagram, according to court papers.
Pressley and Platzke were also charged legal fees by Ford after a client failed to pay an $80,000 bill for modeling services.
The client eventually paid Ford $18,000, according to the lawsuit, but Pressley was paid just $798 while her male counterpart, Platzke, was paid “several thousand dollars more,” even though he had worked fewer hours at a lower rate.
Pressley also worked with Wilhelmina from 2002 through 2012, where she was not allowed to be involved in negotiating details about her assignments and was “discouraged” from turning down assignments lest the agency refuse to promote her future work.
There was another class-action lawsuit filed against major agencies including Ford, Wilhelmina, Click and Next in 2013, according to court records.
Those models, including Alex Shanklin and Louisa Raske, also claimed they had not been properly paid for their work.
None of the agencies returned an immediate request for comment.