SAG-AFTRA Sues Lee Daniels for Not Paying Residuals

The actors' union looks to confirm a $335k arbitration award that includes health and pension contributions.
Courtesy of Sunshine Sachs

Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of Precious and the co-creator of Fox's Empire, was hit with a lawsuit on Tuesday from SAG-AFTRA. In California federal court, the labor guild claims that Daniels' company has failed to pay residuals or make required pension and health contributions to performers on his 2005 film Shadowboxer.

According to the complaint, Daniels made Shadowboxer, which starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Helen Mirren and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement for independent producers but has failed to send along required reports about the distribution of the movie or make payments.

SAG-AFTRA took Daniels to confidential arbitration over this issue all the way back in 2009.

According to a 2011 arbitration decision, attached as an exhibit in the lawsuit, Daniels didn't attend the hearing. The arbitrator awarded SAG-AFTRA more than $335,000, consisting of $169,630 in residuals, $25,323 in pension and health contributions and $93,544 in late payment liquidated damages, plus more for taxes and expenses.

With no explanation why it then waited four years, SAG-AFTRA is now looking to get a federal judge to confirm the arbitration award against Shadowboxer, LLC and Lee Daniels Entertainment. The union says it has attempted to contact Daniels with no response. As late as Nov. 25, the union has been reaching out to him, but apparently doesn't even know the right digits.

"Producer telephone number was out of service," says the complaint.

Daniels had no immediate comment about the filing. 

A spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA doesn't explain the wait nor its seeming lack of diligence in contacting Daniels, but did note that a four-year statute of limitations under California law that probably informs why the guild didn't wait any longer to pursue the claim.

Importantly, the guild is also looking to foreclose on Shadowboxer in order to get its claimed money. According to the spokesperson, "Subsequent to the issuance of the [2011 arbitration] award, SAG-AFTRA served a notice of assignment to attach revenue generated by the distribution of the film. While we were able to recover a modest amount of the debt over the last few years, we determined that foreclosure on the film would yield the best result for the cast and therefore sought to confirm the award and move forward with a foreclosure sale at this time. We remain ready to resolve this dispute amicably."

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