May 08, 2012 2:17am PT by Eriq Gardner
Ben Stein Loses Bulk of Lawsuit Claiming Global Warming Beliefs Cost Him Acting Job (Exclusive)
A judge has dismissed most of Ben Stein's lawsuit that claimed the Japanese company Kyocera Mita backed out of a $300,000 deal to hire him to act in commercials for a line of computer printers after it found out about his controversial beliefs on global warming.
Although Stein claimed that his freedom to speak publicly was at stake, California Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White has ruled that much of his lawsuit itself was a legal maneuver intended to impinge free speech and has dismissed eight of Stein's nine claims. The lawsuit survives, but only barely.
Stein was a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon before becoming an expert in economics and starting a showbiz career with a role in 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He went on to star in Comedy Central's game show Win Ben Stein's Money and has appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies.
He was all set to appear in Kyocera's commercials when an employee at its New York ad agency called Stein's agent and expressed concern that Stein's views on global warming might not be "conventional and politically correct for Kyocera."
Stein brought a lawsuit premised on multiple causes of action including breach of contract and infliction of emotional distress. In response, Kyocera brought an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the lawsuit because it interfered with its First Amendment rights on a matter of public concern.
White says Stein framed this case as arising out of "freedom of speech, freedom of religion and political freedom," but she finds that the case implicates the defendant's freedoms as much as it does Stein's -- namely, the company's freedom of expressive association.
The judge adds that the defendant "had a constitutional right not to be associated with Plaintiff, whose views on global warning as being the act of God were different from that which Kyocera wished to espouse, i.e., that global warming was man-made."
White dismisses Stein's claims of breach of contract, finding that the plaintiff hasn't presented evidence that his agent objectively accepted Kyocera's contract offer. According to the decision, the parties' lawyers were still discussing final terms when the offer to star in the commercials was pulled.
Stein's claims of good faith and fair dealing, negligent infliction of emotional distress, promissory estoppel, wrongful discharge in violation of fundamental public policy and negligent and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage are also dismissed.
Only Stein's claim for misappropriation of his publicity rights survives. That allegation is premised on Kyocera Mita allegedly hiring, within days of Stein being let go, a University of Maryland economics teacher to do the commercials by adopting Stein's persona (bowtie, glasses, sports jacket). It's a charge that's similar to Kim Kardashian's lawsuit against Old Navy over a lookalike in a commercial, if instead of reality stars hawking cheap clothing, Stein has some domain over economic professors selling electronics.
The defendants were represented by Kathyleen O'Brien and Michael Garabed of Reed Smith.