Hollywood Docket: Netflix Beats Mo'Nique's Retaliation Claims, For Now

Mo'Nique - Almost Christmas Atlanta screening Getty-H 2019
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Universal Pictures

Netflix has convinced a California federal judge that Mo'Nique hasn't yet shown a plausible case it retaliated against her after she complained about receiving a "lowball" offer.

Mo'Nique Hicks in November sued the streamer claiming the $500,000 offer she got for a standup special was lower than what other comedians were paid and the lowball was the result of gender and racial discrimination.

Netflix fired back with a motion to dismiss her retaliation claims and a motion to strike other portions of her complaint, arguing Mo'Nique didn't argue why she deserves the same pay as "mega-stars" like Eddie Murphy and Ellen DeGeneres and can't show the company's decision not to give her a better deal after she called for a boycott amounts to retaliation.

U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. on Thursday granted Netflix's motion to dismiss and granted in part and denied in part Netflix's separate motion to strike. He found Hicks has not adequately alleged that the streamer's decision to not change its offer after she publicly chastised the company amounts to retaliation, but he's giving her a chance to amend her claims. 

"The Court notes that Plaintiff raises a novel theory here, namely that failure to negotiate constitutes an 'adverse employment action' for purposes of a retaliation claim," writes Birotte. "In light of the arguments that Plaintiff raised orally before the Court, the Court allows Plaintiff leave to amend her retaliation claims and to file a First Amended Complaint adding facts in support thereof."

Birotte declined to strike the portion of the complaint that addresses the historical pay disparity that affects black women, another section that discusses a Netflix exec who was fired for using a racial slur in a meeting, and one that references a pay-disparity dispute involving an actress on The Crown. He did strike the part of Hicks' complaint that references Kevin Spacey's alleged racist behavior on the set of House of Cards as irrelevant. (Read the full order here.)

In other entertainment litigation news: 

— A New York federal judge is limiting a songwriter's heirs who accuse Ed Sheeran of copyright infringement to the sheet music deposited with the copyright office when arguing similarities between the singer's hit "Thinking Out Loud" and "Let's Get It On" at trial. Kathryn Townsend Griffin sued Sheeran on behalf of Ed Townsend Jr., who co-wrote the iconic song. The court also won't let the jury hear Marvin Gaye's recording of the song because it contains elements that aren't protected by copyright because they weren't contained in the deposited sheet music. (Read the order here.)

— Optimad Media is suing a distributor for fraud and breach of contract. The digital media company alleges it paid GVN Releasing more than $1.8 million to partially fund the P&A budget of four films: Armed, Beautifully Broken, Shine and London Fields. Based on the box office performance, Optimad believes it should have recouped most or all of its investment and claims GVN has instead used that money to fund other films.

— Steve Earle has dropped his claims against Universal Music Group over a 2008 backlot fire that was feared to have destroyed master copies of many artists' works. Jane Petty, ex-wife of late singer Tom Petty, is the only plaintiff remaining in the litigation.

— James Franco is fighting back against sexual harassment and discrimination claims from two former students of his acting school. In a demurrer and motion to strike filed in late February, Franco argues the suit filed in October by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal is not only largely barred by the statute of limitations but is also a legally baseless attention grab and abuse of the #MeToo movement.

In settlement news:

— Just days after a judge ruled that some of the claims in comedian Harith Iskander's dispute with the Laugh Factory should move forward to trial, the parties notified the court that they've reached a settlement.

— Snap is asking a California federal judge to approve a nearly $155 million settlement that resolves a 2017 securities class action over how the company characterized growth in daily active users leading up to its IPO. (Read the filing here.)

The New York Post has reached a settlement with a doctor from The Biggest Loser, ending a defamation suit he filed after a contestant told the outlet in an interview that he gave her illegal drugs to help her lose weight. The Post issued a statement that during the case it was shown evidence that Dr. Robert Huizenga not only didn't encourage contestants to take weight-loss drugs, but he opposed their use. The outlet also removed the three stories at issue from its website. The individual contestant and the doctor are also in the process of settling, and the entire case was dismissed with prejudice on March 11.

— Audible has reached a settlement with the Association of American Publishers, which sued in August over the app's captions feature. Under their deal, Audible won't re-create captions for its audiobooks without a license. The parties in February notified the court they had reached an agreement and the case was dismissed with prejudice on March 6. The settlement applies to not just the seven publishers who participated in the suit, but all AAP members in good standing.

— Jason Lust and Animal Logic have resolved their long-running dispute over Peter Rabbit and the Lego Movie sequels. Lust sued in 2016 claiming he was unfairly shut out of the projects and was met with a countersuit from Animal Logic. U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt in September dismissed most of Lust's claims, and the parties have notified the court they've reached a settlement in principle and are hammering out the details. 

— Brooke Shields' lawsuit against major retailers and a beauty brand over an eyebrow pencil named "Brooke S" has settled.

In hiring news:

— Steve Marenberg has joined Paul Hastings as chair of its Entertainment and Media Litigation Group. “The entertainment and media industry continues to undergo a substantial shift, and our clients are demanding the counsel of industry veterans to help them navigate the new paradigm,” said Seth Zachary, chair of Paul Hastings, in a statement. “Steve is one of the top litigators in the entertainment and media industry, and his decades of experience complement Paul Hastings’ leading Entertainment and Media practice and will bring immediate benefits to our clients across the globe." He joins from Irell & Manella.

— Terrence L. Dugan and Christopher A. Owens have joined O'Melveny & Myers as partners in its corporate finance practice and are based in the firm's New York office. They join from Morgan Lewis. 

— Joshua Edwards has joined Fox Rothschild as counsel. He comes from Beverly Hills boutique lawfirm Pierce Law Group, where he was head of its talent and production legal department.