Terrence Howard says he was underpaid for his work on Empire, and now he plans to bring the matter to court.
At a press conference held on Friday, Howard, 54, announced that he would be suing CAA for breach of fiduciary duty and fraud, according to Rolling Stone.
The actor, who played hip-hop mogul and patriarch Lucious Lyon on the hit Fox series, claims that the talent agency urged him to take a “lowball” salary and did not act in his best interest. The agency, per Howard’s claims, also represented the show’s co-creators, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, in addition to the show’s production companies in a lucrative package deal.
Per Variety, Howard’s legal strategy claims that the CAA had a profit participation stake through the deal. Therefore, it allegedly had an interest in maximizing the total profit that 20th Century Fox TV had on the series.
“I can’t say for certain this was a racial issue, but I can’t imagine another counterpart—a white counterpart—with the same accolades, name recognition and numbers that I had, receiving the lowball pay that I was receiving,” said Howard to Rolling Stone following the press conference.
Howard also pointed out a major pay disparity between himself and other household-name actors at the time. For example, he cited that actor Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory was being paid significantly more per episode in 2015, the same year as Empire’s debut, despite eventually surpassing the sitcom in viewership. Howard’s Empire salary began at $125,000 before ultimately reaching $325,000 per episode.
The lawsuit, filed late Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, also notes that Howard was reportedly left in the dark about the CAA’s packaging fee and that he was paid less than Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, and Kevin Spacey during his time on Netflix’s House of Cards, reports Variety.
“You have all your agents telling you that you got the best deal possible, telling you, ‘Everything is good. Don’t worry, you’re going to get your money on the back-end. After we get to a hundred episodes, we’re going into syndication, and man, you’re gonna get paid, don’t rock the boat,’” he also told the publication. “I drank the Kool-Aid. I believed that I was going to get paid, or that I was getting compensated properly, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t want to piss off CAA and Fox. They’re big companies to go to war against. But sooner or later you’ve got to stand up, because they’re just trampling over the rights of the artists.”
Howard, who claimed last year that he was retiring, told reporters that his lawsuit “might be a death blow” to his career in Hollywood but is looking for “accountability.”
“It’s about being a whistleblower,” he said.