NEW YORK - On September 28, a federal judge dismissed a trademark lawsuit the dinner theater company Medieval Times filed against a group of its own employees who unionized and against the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), the labor union that represents the employees. Medieval Times claimed in its lawsuit that the workers, who referred to themselves on social media as Medieval Times Performers United (MTPU), violated federal trademark laws by using the “Medieval Times” name in the name of their organization.
Medieval Times asserted that consumers could be confused into thinking the company was sponsoring or endorsing the union. In an opinion dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge William J. Martini described the company’s theory as “entirely conclusory” and concluded that “consumers are not likely to believe that [AGVA and MTPU] are endorsed by Medieval Times.”
The court explained that the union was using the Medieval Times name “as part of communications about the employer’s labor practices,” and that in prior cases, “courts have often held that that is unlikely to cause confusion.” The court also noted that Medieval Times did not cite any examples of consumers actually being confused, and that the MTPU logo was not “confusingly similar” to the Medieval Times logo.
The dismissal of the lawsuit is the latest setback for Medieval Times’ campaign to oppose its employees’ efforts to organize for safer and better working conditions. Knights, squires, show cast, and stable hands who work at the Medieval Times locations in Lyndhurst, New Jersey and Buena Park, California, selected AGVA as their collective bargaining representative in elections held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2022.
After the New Jersey workers voted to unionize in July 2022, Medieval Times refused to agree to holding an election among workers in the same positions at the California location. Instead, Medieval Times argued at an NLRB hearing that the show cast and stable hands could not be included in the same bargaining unit with the knights and squires. An NLRB Regional Director rejected the company’s arguments, and the California workers voted to unionize in November 2022.
Since the elections, AGVA has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges against Medieval Times with the NLRB. On August 21, 2023, Region 22 of the NLRB issued a Complaint after concluding that four of AGVA’s charges against Medieval Times had merit. The NLRB alleges that the company’s violations of federal labor law include terminating an employee because of his union activity, threatening employees in retaliation for union activity, refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith with AGVA, and causing MTPU to be banned from TikTok by submitting a trademark infringement complaint. A hearing before an administrative law judge regarding these charges is scheduled for November 7, 2023.
Several other unfair labor practice charges against Medieval Times are still under investigation by the NLRB, including a charge that Medieval Times’ trademark lawsuit was baseless and filed in retaliation for the employees’ union activities.
Workers at the Medieval Times in California have been on strike since February 2023 in response to the company’s unfair labor practices.
Susanne K. Doris, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of AGVA, said: “AGVA welcomes the court’s decision dismissing Medieval Times’ lawsuit. The court recognized the absurdity of the company’s claim that the public wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Medieval Times and the union that is advocating for Medieval Times workers. The dismissal will allow us to continue focusing on what really matters — fair wages, safe working conditions, and respect in the workplace — without this needless distraction.”
Nicholas J. Johnson, of Spivak Lipton LLP, attorneys for AGVA and MTPU, said: “This decision is significant and confirms that unionized workers don’t violate federal trademark laws by identifying themselves on their social media accounts as employees of a particular company. We hope the court’s decision will deter other employers from trying to weaponize trademark law against workers and unions in the future.”