Rapper Kanye West is facing multi-million-dollar lawsuits in which former employees of his Sunday Service shows and the opera production “Nebuchadnezzar” claim they were mistreated or not paid.
Two class-action lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles last summer by employment lawyer Frank Kim and entertainment attorneys Harris & Ruble on behalf of 500 performers and 300 other staff, respectively, alleging violation of California employment law,the United Kingdom-based outlet The Sun reported Friday.
The lawsuits against the 43-year-old rap star claim that his employees and staff were paid too little and too late and were not given time to rest or eat meals. The legal complaints allege that employees had to stand for long hours and were not provided a shuttle to return to their homes.
Many more are likely to join the lawsuit, and the total number could be about 1,000, an unnamed legal source was quoted as saying.
“They’ve got hundreds of people on board already, but they’re talking to many, many others, who want to be a part of it,” the source reportedly said. “People are very upset how they were treated, saying it’s their worst experience.”
According to the source, the Los Angeles County Superior Court has combined the lawsuits, which will need to establish the rapper as the employer and hold him responsible.
“No one knows how involved Kanye himself was, if he knew what was going on, as it was all so last minute, it was terribly ran,” the source was quoted as saying. “Whether it was mismanagement, accidental, or on purpose, this is a very strong case.”
West, who is preparing for a divorce with his wife Kim Kardashian, may have to pay about $1 million to settle each lawsuit or fork over upwards of $30 million if he chooses to contest the lawsuits, the source argued.
The rapper’s “Nebuchadnezzar” opera event was based on the biblical account of the Babylonian king in the book of Daniel. It showed the king’s transition from a wicked, self-declared ruler to a believer in God. It was performed at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in November 2019.
The opera not only featured hundreds of performers, but it also required a large backstage crew.
“West conceived of this opera as an expression of his commitment to both his faith and ever-expanding musical palette,” a statement about the show said at the time. “Nebuchadnezzar brings together elements from different worlds, including opera, fine art, modern dance, and gospel music, to create an innovative performance structure. West’s sound is the bridge between these art forms.”
The Sun reports that California employment law requires performers and crew members who also worked on the rehearsal to be classified as employees, not simply independent contractors.
This classification, the report states, means that workers had rights to overtime wages and breaks. But the lawsuits contend that the workers on the show didn’t get the breaks and wages they were qualified to receive and did not get paid on time.
In one lawsuit filed in August, over 500 performers of the show are represented by Kim. Meanwhile, the other lawsuit was filed on behalf of over 300 backstage workers.
Michael Pearson, a performer, was quoted as claiming that he was paid a flat $250 per day rate “regardless of the number of hours worked.” He claimed he was not given rest or meal breaks and was "forced to stand or sit on the ground" all weekend because there weren’t enough chairs, The Sun reports.
Hair assistant Raina Leon claimed that she was paid $250 for the rehearsal and $350 for the performance. However, she said it took over four months to be paid.
Before West created his record-breaking Christ-centered album Jesus Is King, he had compared himself to King Nebuchadnezzar. In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music’s Beats 1, he compared his Yeezus Tour (2013-2014) to the Babylonian king's ego-crazed side.
“[God] is saying, Let me take this Nebuchadnezzar-type character — Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, and he looked at his entire kingdom and said, I did this,” West said, adding, “I stood on the top of the mountain talking about Yeezus, saying, ‘I’m a God’ — I had a guy dressed as Jesus.”
According to The Sun, lawyers are now reaching out to workers of Kanye’s Sunday Service events about joining the legal action.
In 2019, West put on Sunday Service worship services at various locations across the country. The shows featured gospel choirs and messages from West and were held in places such as Coachella, Skid Row in Los Angeles, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston and even Jamaica.
In December 2019, West revealed that his Sunday Service events saved his life.
“A lot of times people say, ‘Thank you, Ye, for Sunday Service.’ I’m saying thank God. This thing saved my life,” West said while performing his spiritual warfare song, “Closed on Sunday,” at the time. “This thing was an alternative to opioids. This thing was an alternative to pornography.”
Last September, West disclosed that he spent over $50 million in 2019 holding Sunday Service and opera events. He said he was able to pay for it through the proceeds made from his sneaker brand.
“The Yeezys, they were selling themselves. So instead of paying for ads, I invested it in the Church,” West said in a conversation with Nick Cannon. “I invested in spreading the Gospel. I invested in saying Jesus' name on high.”