Sean Penn Wins Apology from Lee Daniels in Defamation Settlement

Daniels will also be making a "generous" contribution to charity.
Todd Williamson/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter

Sean Penn will be pulling a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Empire creator Lee Daniels thanks to a settlement that includes a profuse apology and a charitable donation.

The actor filed his lawsuit in Sept. 2015 after Daniels spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about domestic abuse troubles for Empire star Terrence Howard. "[Terrence Howard] ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he's some f—in' demon," said Daniels at the time. "That's a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America."

Penn saw the comment as a slur on him. He blanched at being likened to someone who admitted to physically abusing women. The actor said he was never arrested for domestic violence, and in his complaint, asserted he would "no longer tolerate the reckless and malicious behavior of others, who seek to aggrandize themselves or their projects at his expense."

When he amended the lawsuit in December, Penn even provided a declaration from his former wife Madonna that there was never any assault.

"I am so sorry that I have hurt you, Sean, and I apologize and retract my reckless statements about you," says Daniels now in a statement that ends the lawsuit. "How thoughtless of me. You are someone I consider a friend, a brilliant actor and true Hollywood legend and humanitarian."

Daniels adds, "I too have been the subject of false attacks by others, like those made here. My most important role is as a father, and it is important to me that my children learn that it is wrong to reference gossip as fact, as I did here. That can be very damaging and hurtful. Domestic violence is a very serious issue. My comments were cavalier; it was not my intention to diminish the severity of the issue, but rather to express a view regarding the disparate treatment of men of color in our national conversation. I apologize again for the distress that this has caused you and your family."

"I accept Lee's heartfelt apology and appreciate the sincerity with which it was delivered," responds Penn. "I also accept and appreciate his generous donation to J/P HRO, which will have a transformative effect on the lives of those we serve in Haiti."

These words bring an end to the defamation handled on behalf of Penn by attorney Mathew Rosengart and defended on behalf of Daniels by James Sammataro. Before it ended, the legal action spurred a First Amendment defense premised on whether Daniels' comments amounted to a non-actionable opinion. There was also the issue of whether Penn, as a public figure who had tolerated years of gossip stories, could show actual malice. But the answer may have to await a future court action as Penn and Daniels are moving forward.

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