7:03am PT by Eriq Gardner
Jury Awards $450K in Hollywood Cocaine Whistleblower Trial (Exclusive)
Andrew MacDonald, an award-winning visual effects guru who was fired from Ascent Media Group after blowing the whistle on the alleged drug habits of one of his superiors, was awarded $450,000 by a jury on Tuesday for wrongful termination.
The jury award represents two years of salary and could climb higher after the parties reconvene in Los Angeles Superior Court over the issue of punitive damages. It comes more than three years after MacDonald spoke up about Alex Frisch, best known as the visual effects supervisor on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, who according to court papers was known in the office by such nicknames as "Power Donut Man" and "Cokey the Clown, Our Fearless Leader."
Frisch has denied such behavior, telling The Hollywood Reporter that allegations of coke abuse were a "lie" and that MacDonald's accusations have been "very painful." Frisch wasn't a party to this litigation.
Instead, MacDonald sued AMG in September 2010, 18 months after he met with one of the company's top executives at the Buffalo Club in Santa Monica.
At the meeting, MacDonald was to finalize an employment agreement with AMG, which the previous autumn had merged the visual postproduction studio RIOT with Frisch's Method Studios. Following the merger, Frisch became the director of creative visual effects at Method, the top creative slot at the combined studio, and MacDonald was to be the No.2 exec.
But MacDonald says he was concerned about Frisch "and his open and notorious drug abuse at the office during working hours."
MacDonald says he was told not to undermine Frisch, and the AMG executive at the meeting asked if he had proof of the alleged drug use. MacDonald asked whether he needed to videotape the bathroom, which he says was meant as a joke, but the comment led to another meeting the following day with AMG's in-house lawyer. There, MacDonald was accused of actually videotaping the bathroom, then charged with lying, then terminated.
At trial, MacDonald, represented by famed attorney Mark Geragos, presented the case that the firing was an excuse to cover up illegal acts.
MacDonald and his wife testified. Three top AMG executives also took the stand.
"It was clear during the trial, the jury completely rejected the testimony of the Ascent executives," Geragos tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The attorney adds that the jury's conclusion that the employer acted "maliciously" is "rare in a wrongful termination case but an appropriate decision given all of the complete fabrications and lies."
MacDonald is back in court Wednesday in hopes of collecting punitive damages.
Frisch is no longer at AMG, having left to co-found a new visual effects studio that has worked with such artists as Nicki Minaj.
We've contacted attorneys for AMG and will provide comment from them when we get it.
E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @eriqgardner