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‘Empire’ Co-Creator Lee Daniels Sued by SAG-AFTRA Over Non-Payment of Residuals

UPDATE, 10:43 p.m. — SAG-AFTRA has sued Lee Daniels’ companies over their alleged failure to pay $335,000 in residuals to performers, along with other payments related to his 2005 film “Shadowboxer.”

The performers union filed a complaint Tuesday in federal court in Los Angeles against Shadowboxer LLC and Lee Daniels Entertainment. A rep for Daniels did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The action alleged that Daniels’ companies had made “Shadowboxer,” a crime thriller starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Helen Mirren, Stephen Dorff and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, pursuant to the terms of the SAG collective bargaining agreement for independent producers but failed to make payments or send the required reports about the distribution of the movie.

The action also asserted that a 2011 arbitration decision awarded the union more than $335,000 including $169,630 in residuals, $25,323 in pension and health contributions and $93,544 in late payment liquidated damages. The lawsuit is seeking enforcement of the 2011 arbitration decision.

More than five hours after the reports of the legal action appeared, SAG-AFTRA said in a statement late Tuesday night that the arbitration award had been obtained after several years of trying to resolve a claim related to unpaid residuals on “Shadowboxer.”

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“California law provides for a four year statute of limitations for the confirmation of arbitration awards,” the union said.  “As attempts to enforce the arbitration award were unsuccessful, the union filed this action to reserve all rights to obtain payment.  Residuals payments are crucial income for many of SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000+ members and the union vigorously enforces residuals payments for members.”

The statement also noted that the union had not taken any action against Daniels as an individual: “SAG-AFTRA respects Mr. Daniels as a producer and director and has not taken any legal action against him individually.  This dispute is with the corporate entities responsible for residuals payments on the film.”

The union also said that subsequent to the issuance of the 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,” it said. “We remain ready to resolve this dispute amicably.”

SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012, creating SAG-AFTRA. The new union assumed the assets of the predecessor unions.

Daniels directed and was a producer on “Shadowboxer,” which grossed around $500,000 at the box office. He went on to direct “Precious,” “The Paperboy” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and is the co-creator and executive producer of “Empire.”

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