×

‘Simpsons’ Composer Alf Clausen Drops Wrongful Firing Suit Against Fox

Alf Clausen
Todd Williamson/Invision for the Television AcademyAP Images

Alf Clausen, the longtime “Simpsons” composer who was fired in 2017, has dropped his wrongful termination lawsuit, in which he accused Fox of age and disability discrimination.

Clausen, 80, filed the suit in August 2019, alleging that Fox and Gracie Films had fired him because of his age and Parkinson’s diagnosis. Clausen worked on the show for 27 years, and was nominated for 23 Emmy Awards.

In August 2020, a judge dismissed part of the suit, ruling that Clausen had not shown enough evidence of age discrimination, but could proceed with his disability discrimination claim, among others. Fox appealed that ruling, arguing that the entire lawsuit should have been dismissed, and the case was argued in December.

Clausen’s attorney, Ebby Bakhtiar, told Variety that the justices appeared likely to rule against him. Rather than wait for the ruling — which could have exposed Clausen to the risk of having to pay Fox’s attorneys’ fees — Bakhtiar decided it was better to dismiss the suit outright.

“We caught a very, very conservative panel,” Bakhtiar said. “I think he got screwed.”

Fox’s attorneys filed a request on Monday to drop the appeal, which will be followed by Clausen’s motion to dismiss the case at the trial court.

Producers on “The Simpsons” had argued that Clausen was let go for legitimate creative reasons. In particular, they argued that his musical talents leaned toward classical, big band and jazz music, and that he struggled to keep up with more current idioms.

“In my view, it is important for the show to reference and use the musical genres that are popular at the time or that evoke relevant cultural references, because the show entertains not only by telling a story but also by making these cultural references — and musical references are incredibly important for that,” Matt Selman, one of the showrunners, said in a declaration. “At some point, it became clear to me that Clausen was not adept at composing all the myriad forms of music desired for the show.”

The problems came to a head with an episode called “The Great Phatsby,” a send-up of the Fox show “Empire,” which heavily featured hip-hop music. The show brought in an outside composer to work with Clausen, but the producers remained dissatisfied with the final product.

The producers also realized they could save money by replacing Clausen — who worked with a 35-piece orchestra — with Bleeding Fingers Music, a composing collective that relied more on synth music. In addition, the producers were troubled that Clausen was farming out work to other composers, including his son, without permission.

Fox’s attorneys, Adam Levin and Stephen Rossi, sought to strike Clausen’s complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which protects free speech from frivolous lawsuits. They argued that the choice of composers on “The Simpsons” is protected under the first amendment, and it cannot be regulated by state anti-discrimination law.

In the appeal, Bakhtiar maintained that Clausen was not “on-air” talent and did not have final say over his creative output, and therefore should not be subject to the anti-SLAPP statute. He also argued that he had shown enough evidence that the reasons given for the firing were pretextual to overcome the anti-SLAPP motion.

“Suffice it to say, the firing had a profound impact on Mr. Clausen,” Bakhtiar argued. “Apart from being utterly devastated by the shock of the event, Mr. Clausen believed it was solely predicated upon his disabilities.” Clausen’s son and assistant noted “a rapid decline in Mr. Clausen’s emotional and physical health following the loss of his job,” Bakhtiar wrote.