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Terrence Howard sues CAA for allegedly cheating him out of higher pay on 'Empire'

Christi Carras, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

"Empire" star Terrence Howard filed a lawsuit Friday against CAA, alleging that the talent agency urged him to accept a salary below the industry standard during his time on the musical drama.

The Oscar-nominated actor, who played protagonist and music mogul Lucious Lyon in the hit Fox series, sued Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles Superior Court for breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud and fraudulent representation.

The complaint alleges that CAA — who represented Howard as well as the producers of "Empire" and "numerous" other parties during the show's five-year run — "placed their interests and the interests of their other clients above" his while "urging him to accept talent fees that were far less than what he should have been afforded," according to a news release published Thursday.

Howard maintains that he trusted his agents' "representations that these salaries were industry standard" until recently, when he discovered through his own research that he was "entitled to a much higher salary given the success of the show."

The Times has reached out to CAA for comment.

During a news conference held Friday in Los Angeles, Howard's attorneys at the Cochran Firm invoked the struggles of Hollywood writers and actors who recently went on strike for higher pay and criticized the practice of agents representing talent and their employers simultaneously.

Howard's team estimated at the news conference that their client received 30% to 50% less than what he should have been paid per episode but said they were still in the process of determining exactly how much the actor is allegedly owed. The highest pay Howard said he received was $350,000 per episode during the final season of the show.

 

"We expect our agents and our lawyers to look after us, and therefore we're free to do all of the work that you guys enjoy so much," Howard told reporters at Friday's event. "I trusted CAA to look after me, and they looked after themselves."

Howard stopped short of calling his case "a racial issue," but added that he "cannot imagine" a white performer with the same "accolades and ... world recognition" being misused and underpaid the way he allegedly was.

The "Hustle & Flow" and "Iron Man" actor also recalled his agents allegedly providing him with examples of salaries of other leading men on TV at the time, including Kevin Spacey of "House of Cards" and Jon Hamm of "Mad Men" — both of whom were making more money than Howard despite their series pulling in significantly less viewers, according to Bryant.

Howard suggested during the news conference that he should have been paid as much as Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" or someone from "Game of Thrones" based on the popularity of "Empire."

Created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, "Empire" saw Howard's character and the rest of the powerful Lyon family jockey for control of the hip-hop record label he founded. The series, which also starred Bryshere Y. Gray, Jussie Smollett, Trai Byers and Taraji P. Henson, ran from January 2015 to April 2020. It collected eight Emmy nominations over the course of six seasons.


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