The lead character “Dora” of Nickelodeon’s wildly popular animated television show, “Dora the Explorer,” has embarked on a variety of journeys during her ten years on the air. Interestingly, “Dora’s” most recent excursion involves a trip to the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan. More specifically, fourteen-year-old DoraCaitlin Sanchez, the actress who has provided the voice of “Dora” for the past three years, filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Nickelodeon, MTV Networks, and Viacom alleging three causes of action: quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, and breach of contract.

According to the complaint,  the Defendants “swindled” Sanchez out of millions in promised compensation for re-runs of “Dora” episodes that were voiced by Sanchez, merchandising, promotional work, and voice-recordings. The complaint states that Nickelodeon’s contract with Sanchez was substantively unconscionable, because it contained “convoluted, vague, incomplete, and misrepresented terms,” that allowed Nickelodeon to unjustly enrich themselves with revenue earned as a result of Sanchez’s hard work, and without adequately compensating Sanchez for her services rendered. Prior to signing the contract, the Sanchez family was informed by Caitlin’s agent, Jason Bercy, that Caitlin would receive $5,115 per episode — or four hours of recording — plus compensation for re-runs, promotional events, and merchandising. However, Nickelodeon failed to adhere to these promises, and instead “used convoluted payment deduction clauses and additional free services provisions to underpay Caitlin for her acting and recordings, force her to work hundreds of hours marketing the “Dora” brand for free. . .and withhold her residual payments and merchandise percentage.” As a result of its failure to pay Sanchez, Nickelodeon was unjustly enriched by millions of dollars.

Additionally, the complaint asserts that the contract between Nickelodeon and Sanchez was procedurally unconscionable because there was no meeting of the minds between the parties. This is so, because when Sanchez and her family received the contract, they were told by Bercy that if they did not sign the contract immediately, Nickelodeon would give the part to another girl. Consequentially, under extreme pressure, duress, and without consulting legal counsel, the Sanchez family signed the complex contract a mere twenty-two minutes after receiving it. Furthermore, the complaint argues that there was a significant disparity of bargaining power at the time the contract was signed, especially due to the fact that the Defendants knew that the Sanchez family did not possess any legal knowledge. For these reasons, Sanchez asserts that her contract with Nickelodeon is unenforceable, and she is entitled to the reasonable value of her services.

In response to the complaint, Nickelodeon recently issued a statement to CNN claiming that Sanchez’s claims are without merit, that her contract was well-negotiated, and that she was fairly compensated for all of her work performed in connection with the “Dora” show. Nickelodeon stated that it was forced to part ways with Sanchez due to the fact that Sanchez’s voice had changed, and she was no longer able to convincingly portray the character of “Dora.” However, in a shocking twist more suited for a “Law & Orderepisode than a kid’s television program, Caitlin’s mother released an audio-tape from July 13th, 2010 in which Jodi Davis, Nickelodeon’s Vice President of Communications, stresses repeatedly to Mrs. Sanchez that Nickelodeon wants Caitlin as the face and voice of “Dora” through June of 2012. If accurate, this recording would completely disprove Nickelodeon’s previous statement, and call into question its credibility should the case progress to trial.

Casey McLaughlin

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