Judge sides with Uni in '2 Fast' suit
EmptyFrank Davis' "weak organization and communication skills" got him fired by Universal Pictures as first assistant director of "2 Fast 2 Furious," not his race, a Los Angeles federal judge has ruled in a case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In a 14-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess found the evidence presented at trial "convincingly demonstrates that Davis lacked the background and experience to serve" in the position and that "his inadequate performance, and not race, motivated Universal Pictures to replace Davis with a different FAD." The decision was dated Wednesday and made public late Thursday.
"I am extremely pleased with the court's decision today, which is a complete vindication for Universal and its employees," Universal president and CEO Ron Meyer said.
Attorneys for the EEOC could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
The government filed suit against Universal after Davis, who was hired for the 2003 film by director John Singleton, claimed his firing was a result of racial discrimination. Davis, an African American, joined the lawsuit seeking damages, but he reached a confidential settlement with the studio a day after opening statements started in a jury trial.
The jury was dismissed when Davis settled, but the EEOC continued its case before Feess, seeking to force Universal to implement policies, procedures and programs to prevent discrimination.
EEOC attorney Derek Li told Feess in closing arguments June 20 that the studio's reason for firing Davis were as fake as the buildings on the Universal backlot.
"They never intended to give Frank Davis an opportunity to succeed as a director," Li told Feess.
But Feess noted in his decision that Universal executives were concerned with Davis' performance in the preproduction phase. Those concerns culminated in incidents that occurred on location in Miami.
"Once principal photography commenced in Miami, Davis' weak organization and communications skills were further exposed," Feess wrote.
Feess' decision lists comments on Davis' performance from "various observers," including unit production manager Terry Miller, who described Davis' schedules as "sloppy," and producer Lee Mayes, who said Davis seemed to have "only passing interest" in grasping all the aspects of production, particularly the film's extensive stunts and visual effects.
It was independent producer Neal Moritz who decided in Miami that a change was needed and had a candid discussion with Singleton about removing Davis, with whom the director had worked with for his 2001 film "Baby Boy."
"Thus, although there were some employees at lower levels of responsibility who were comfortable working with Davis … the overwhelming majority of those who worked directly with him either in a subordinate or supervisory capacity found his work to be substandard," Feess wrote. "Nothing in the record suggests that these witnesses fabricated or exaggerated their observations in any way; having observed the demeanor and manner of most of them, either in court or through videotaped deposition proceedings, the court found them credible and unbiased."
Feess also found that Universal did not give "shifting" explanations to Davis when he was fired and that Davis' comparisons to the fair treatment given his replacement and producer Mayes, who are both white, provides no basis for discrimination.
Feess wrote that other factors led him to his decision, including that the director of the film, Singleton, is black, and he disagreed with the EEOC's assertions that Universal was uncomfortable with two blacks in positions of authority on the film.
"As Universal executive Holly Bario testified, Universal had previously distributed two feature films with an African-American director and an African-American first assistant director before ("2 Fast"), and after (the film), Universal distributed or plans to distribute two more feature films with an African-American director and an African-American first assistant director," Feess concluded. "Thus, the EEOC's argument that Universal was motivated by racial animus to destroy the 'historic marriage' of Singleton and Davis in ("2 Fast") is unfounded and unsupported."
Universal, who was represented by Steven Cochran of Katten Muchin Rosenman, has until July 20 to file a detailed proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law.
Leslie Simmons is senior staff writer for The Hollywood Reporter, ESQ.