Hartwell, a Chicago mortgage company director who appeared on the second season of the show, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in June, according to CBS News. He accused Netflix of imposing “inhumane working conditions” on set and providing the cast with an abundance of alcohol while withholding food, water and adequate payment.
“It’s a matter of justice and it’s not about the money for me,” said Hartwell, per CNN.
“I strongly feel that these practices are wrong and they need to change. And the reason why I am making these efforts with this lawsuit is I’m hoping this becomes a catalyst for these changes, so that future reality TV cast members don’t have to go through this.”
Hartwell also named the show’s staff, production company Kinetic Content and casting company Delirium TV as defendants. The lawsuit alleged staff wrongly classified contestants as independent contractors to save money by denying them overtime and minimum wage payment.
Hartwell said contestants routinely worked 20 hours per day for seven days a week for $1,000 per week. A quick look at the math reveals this totals $7.14 per hour — less than half of Los Angeles County’s $15 minimum wage.
The show’s premise, meanwhile, was ingenious: 30 single men and women are put in pods that allow them to speak to, but not see, their prospective partner on the other side. Those who get engaged are sent on their honeymoon before introducing their partner to their families — and deciding whether or not to get married.
Hartwell’s attorney Chantal Payton, however, told CNN that staff purposely withheld food to make “cast members hungry for social connections and altered their emotions and decision-making.” Hartwell said staff constantly reminded contestants not to speak with each other while traveling to the closed set.
He also said they had their wallets, IDs, passports, and cell phones confiscated upon arriving, when they were locked in their rooms for 24 hours straight — with scarce and infrequent provisions of water. Hartwell added alcohol was freely available.
“The combination of sleep deprivation, isolation, lack of food, and an excess of alcohol all either required, enabled or encouraged by defendants contributed to inhumane working conditions and altered mental state for the cast,” the lawsuit read.
Hartwell said he hopes his potential class-action suit on behalf of his fellow participants will change these practices. But Kinetic Content told CNN in a statement Saturday that the lawsuit was baseless.
“Mr. Hartwell’s involvement in Season 2 of ‘Love is Blind’ lasted less than one week,” a representative for the production company said. “Unfortunately, for Mr. Hartwell, his journey ended early after he failed to develop a significant connection with any other participant.”
The representative added that Kinetic Content wouldn’t want to speculate about Hartwell’s motives in filing the lawsuit, to which there was “absolutely no merit.” The production company concluded its statement by warning it would “vigorously defend against these claims.”