Image from Entertainment Weekly.
What was your reality at the age of twelve? For Caitlin Sanchez in 2007, life revolved around her new career as the voice of Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer. From numerous promotions around the country to countless hours of recording sessions, Sanchez’ voice as Dora the Explorer became as iconic as the beloved TV character herself.
Although the Dora the Explorer enterprise expanded in range and popularity, Sanchez felt that she was being cheated out of her deserved earnings, citing an inscrutable contract and network pressure as the cause. She filed a $10 million lawsuit in the Manhattan Supreme Court in 2010 with the help of her parents, Kevin and Hilda Sanchez, suing her network employers.
The defendants named in the lawsuit included Nickelodeon, Viacom International, and MTV Networks. Sanchez claimed that she and her parents were pressured to sign the initial contract within thirty minutes by Nickelodeon and her agent, Jason Bercy, without any prior legal knowledge and no attorney present. According to the complaint, Bercy had encouraged Sanchez and her parents to sign the contract without giving them ample time to review the document completely, claiming that there was no need for an attorney and that Nickelodeon would pass over Sanchez for the part if she did not sign quickly.
The complaint further claimed that the contract was deliberately written in a manner to confuse the family and exploit Sanchez’ talents. Sanchez’ attorney, John Balestriere, argued that Nickelodeon took advantage of Sanchez and her family.
Balestriere generated a lot of media attention due to his threats of exposing network secrets should Nickelodeon refuse to pay Sanchez. The result of the $10 million lawsuit was a $500,000 settlement for Sanchez, with 37.5% of her royalties going to Balestriere.
In 2013, Sanchez challenged Balestriere, claiming that he threatened to lose her case if her family did not agree to his demands, and also appealed the settlement up to the Second Circuit. The appellate court ruled to uphold the 2010 settlement deal but decreased Balestriere’s recoveries down to 15%.
Caitlin Sanchez’ situation echoes those of other young actors and actresses who enter into contracts with the belief that negotiating could result in their missing a breakthrough opportunity. Dora the Explorer she may no longer be, but Sanchez has certainly ventured into the legal field and navigated her way to a better understanding of contractual obligations.
Editor in Chief: Mary Schiavone
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