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The legal battle between Fox and longtime Simpsons composer Alf Clausen over his 2017 termination is officially over after the parties reached a resolution and secured dismissal in two courts, but that doesn’t mean Clausen is walking away singing a happy tune.
Clausen sued Fox in 2019 alleging that he had been fired because of his age. The composer, now 80, had worked on the series for nearly three decades — during which he won two Emmys and was nominated for more than a dozen others. Later, he updated his complaint to include allegations that the network failed to accommodate disabilities stemming from Parkinson’s disease and that he was terminated shortly after disclosing the diagnosis. Clausen’s attorney, Ebby Bakhtiar, tells The Hollywood Reporter that his client’s “fight for justice was evaded by what I believe to be a very conservative panel of the appellate court.”
Fox in April 2020 filed an anti-SLAPP motion arguing that its decision to fire Clausen arose from its free speech rights in connection with musical elements of the series, and said it had legitimate reasons for terminating him, including that producers had learned he was outsourcing work to others. Clausen’s reply characterized the arguments as “lies and deceit.”
The goal of California’s anti-SLAPP statute is to bring an early end to frivolous litigation arising from protected conduct, specifically acts in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech in connection with a public issue. The filing of such a motion triggers a discovery stay in the dispute, and the statute includes the right to an immediate appeal of the decision. If the court grants the motion, a defendant is entitled to recover related attorneys’ fees and costs (with limited exception).
Here, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Michael Stern allowed many of Clausen’s claims to proceed. He found that his claims of failure to engage, failure to accommodate, retaliation and unfair business practices weren’t subject to California’s anti-SLAPP laws. So those survived. The other claims, which Stern found were subject to anti-SLAPP, were then evaluated based on whether Clausen showed a probability of prevailing. While Stern was dubious of Clausen’s age discrimination claim, he found the composer showed a likelihood of being successful on his disability discrimination claim. Fox appealed.
In a December hearing before a California appellate panel, Bakhtiar says he sensed “during the first five minutes of oral arguments” that things weren’t looking good. He says the panel interrupted Fox and effectively previewed its argument for them, indicating the justices agreed, and that it “was downhill from there.”
While Bakhtiar maintains “all of the evidence we had was very compelling,” he realized they were going to lose the appeal. Under the anti-SLAPP statute, that would have put Clausen on the hook for fees. When Fox suggested they should walk away from the fight with each party paying its own costs, Bakhtiar says the risks were too high to say no.
So, shortly after that December hearing, the parties reached a settlement. The appellate court still had the discretion to not dismiss the appeal and instead issue an opinion on the matter, so the dispute lingered in limbo for nearly six weeks.
The parties notified Stern on Jan. 25 that they had resolved their dispute. After receiving notice late last week that the 2nd District Court of Appeal had dismissed the matter, the L.A. court on Monday also entered dismissal and officially brought the fight to an end.
Fox’s attorney Adam Levin declined to comment.
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