Star’s manager prevails in beef over commissions, representation

Thomas Gibson‘s acting career, launched at age 10, has taken him through Julliard, the Broadway stage, and Hollywood, where he starred in the CBS TV hit Criminal Minds for a dozen years. But the unsmiling 55-year-old has seen a highly lucrative career take a rough turn recently, including his 2013 arrested for a DUI (for which he lost use of his license) and his highly publicized tussles and firing in late 2016 from the crime procedural show that had made him one of the industry’s top-paid performers.

While he battles to restore his reputation, actions by Gibson, his longtime manager, and a recent ruling by the California Labor Commission won’t stop the negative turn. The state’s Talent Agencies Act isn’t always the easiest regulation for performers and their managers to navigate, as recent prosecutions have affirmed. But a state labor commissioner found clearly that problems Gibson may have encountered and complained about were on his side, not his manager’s. Let’s dig in to this critical but tempestuous situation.

A professional history

State and court records (a tip of the hat to the Hollywood Reporter for posting them online) show that Gibson had worked with manager Craig Dorfman dating to the days when the then, fresh-faced actor had starred in Chicago Hope, then needed persuading to try a breakout rom-com role on the television show Dharma & Greg. But Gibson claimed their relationship went south recently, especially after he claimed that Dorfman declined to lower his commission to 7.5 percent from 10 percent. While Dorfman may have been the actor’s agent at one point, he also had relinquished his license to be his manager.

Dorfman, in turn, sued Gibson for breach of contract, asserting the actor had failed to pay him $480,000. That suit contains other nasty tidbits that wouldn’t be helpful to the actor’s reputation. Gibson slapped back two days after Dorfman filed his suit with a complaint against his onetime manager to the state labor commissioner. Gibson’s action under the state Talent Agency Act asserts that the oral agreement he had with Dorfman should be nullified. That’s because, under California law, Gibson claimed it was illegal for Dorfman to act as an unlicensed agent in procuring work for him.

A labor commissioner rules

Barton Jacka, a state labor commissioner, heard the dispute, finding Gibson’s argument unpersuasive. Although Dorfman may have taken credit for getting Gibson his role on Criminal Minds, the only actual procurement before Jacka dealt with a promo for that show. Even with it, Jacka said “we cannot conclude that it is more likely than not that he did so” and that the claimed talent act violations looked to be “sporadic and were dwarfed by the bulk of [Dorfman’s] work for Mr. Gibson.” Jacka’s decision weighed heavily Gibson’s failure to point to more specific instances that tied Dorfman negotiating deals for him or that he making offers or demands as an action for illegal procurement would require.  Further, throughout the time Dorfman “managed” him, Gibson also retained talent agencies, a reality that would buttress claims that his “manager” hadn’t taken on an agent’s role and merely passed information along about opportunities and didn’t formally procure them.

Dorfman’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, said he is pleased with the ruling, noting: “The Labor Commission saw right through Thomas Gibson’s true motivation, which was to avoid paying the commissions owed by once again creating a fictitious recollection of facts which did not exist.”

The Gibson-Dorfman civil suit is still pending to determine if any commissions are owed.