A number of Fox media companies have been named as defendants in a class action lawsuit filed Wednesday that claims production on Empire at a juvenile detention center created a harmful atmosphere for its young residents.
The class — which could represent upward of 400 people — seeks unspecified damages and a portion of profits from the show.
The lawsuit was filed by the guardians of two former residents of the Cook County (Illinois) Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, who stayed there last summer. During their time there, Empire shot scenes for the first two episodes of season 2 over six days in June, four days in July, and four days in August, according to the lawsuit. The housed children were forced to stay in their pods while the show was filming, the suit alleges.
“Numerous areas that are essential to the JTDC’s mission of educating and rehabilitating the children housed there — including the JTDC’s school, its facilities for family visits, its only outdoor recreation yard, its library, and its chapel — were placed off limits so that Fox’s agents and employees could use them to stage and film the show,” reads the lawsuit, which was obtained by Deadline.
“The purpose of these lockdowns was to provide Fox with a realistic prison facility to use as the primary set of two highly profitable Empire episodes,” the lawsuit continues. “The children at JTDC, meanwhile, were placed under restrictions more severe than those governing many adult jails.”
Empire began season 2 last September with a monstrous 16.2 million viewers for its premiere and 13.7 million for episode 2. The lawsuit alleges 30-second ad buys for each episode cost $750,000 and $600,000, respectively.
In addition to various Fox companies, the lawsuit names Cook County, and JTDC superintendent Leonard Dixon as fellow defendants.
Fox declined to comment on the lawsuit. The plaintiffs’ lawyers and Cook County did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.