As a bilingual Latina protagonist, Dora the Explorer has been a first on U.S. children's television, a giant balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the focus of a couple controversies. Now, she’s also the focus of a lawsuit.
A teenager who gave voice to the spunky heroine of Nickelodeon's "Dora The Explorer" is claiming the network cheated her out of millions of dollars by underpaying her for work on the groundbreaking children's cartoon series.
While she made $5,115 per episode, Caitlin Sánchez, 14, didn't get the fees she was due for reruns, recordings for DVDs and other Dora products and hundreds of hours of promotional work, she and her family said in a lawsuit filed against Nickelodeon and its corporate parents.
"They took advantage of her," her lawyer, John Balestriere, said Thursday.
Nickelodeon said Caitlin's claims were baseless, and her contract was extensively negotiated.
"She was well-compensated for her work and for personal appearances," network spokesman David Bittler said.
"Dora The Explorer," now in its 10th year, has become a cartoon icon and a cultural force.
And she's also a brand that averages 1.9 million viewers for each episode and has generated more than $11 billion in sales of related toys, books and DVDs worldwide since 2002.
Caitlin has been the voice of 7-year-old Dora since 2007, when she replaced the character's original voice, Kathleen Herles. The Fairview, N.J., teen had done some acting work before "Dora," including on episodes of NBC's "Law and Order: SVU." But the cartoon series marked a big break for the then-12-year-old, who told The Associated Press this summer that she was thrilled to do the job.
"It's really an honor to play an icon," she said.
But that honor has come at a price, her lawsuit says.
She and her family were pressured into signing an unfair contract quickly, without consulting a lawyer, and then were subject to "three and a half years of exploitation and lies," according to her suit. This, even as Nickelodeon executives told her she'd played a big role in the show's success; one said there had never been "a more high-profile face to a voice," the lawsuit said. Filed Wednesday, it seeks unspecified damages.
While some new episodes featuring Caitlin's voice haven't aired yet, she's not expected to voice anymore, her lawyer said.
Bittler said her "voice changed and she was no longer able to portray the Dora character," but the network had offered her other work. Balestriere said he'd told the network Thursday he didn't foresee that, but she remained open to it if the dispute about her previous pay is resolved.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press