As the recent ruling shows in a New York state case involving William Morris Endeavor v. Geraldo Rivera, a little bit of writing can be worth a lot — say, $1 million in commissions the agency said it was owed by the Fox television news host.
Rivera’s agent, Jim Griffin, left William Morris in 2009, but the agency asserts that the broadcast personality should continue to pay it 10 percent of his gross compensation, says the Hollywood Reporter. Rivera in 2005 signed a four-year agreement, which was renewed in 2009 for three more years. The agency claimed that Rivera owed it commissions from February, 2010, to December, 2011.
The two parties had signed an AFTRA Contract on Oct. 14, 1985, giving the agency a ten percent commission from this client. Rivera renewed in September, 1994, and his contract “made clear that only Jim Griffin was to be responsible for handling my representation… and that the Agreement would terminate if Griffin did not remain at WM.” Rivera further said he struck names of other agency employees proposed in the September, 1994, AFTRA contract, designating only Griffin.
The court in New York rejected the agency commissions for two reasons:
(1) The state statute of frauds requires an agreement “by its terms … not to be performed within one year from the making thereof,” be made in writing. Judge Charles E. Ramos ruled that, pursuant to this statute, William Morris had no enforceable claim against Rivera for commissions earned after Sept. 29, 1997. That’s because the agency sought to enforce an agreement never put into writing. The agency contended Rivera’s continued commission payments were proof an agreement existed but the court said this was irrelevant. Even if he were to enforce an oral agreement, Judge Ramos noted, the court would have turned to the last written contract, listing Griffin as Rivera’s exclusive agent. Since Griffin had left William Morris, there was no relationship between Rivera and the agency.
(2) William Morris, the court said, also failed to satisfy General Business Law §181, requiring every employment agency to give to each applicant a “true copy of every contract … which shall have printed… to it a statement setting forth in a clear and concise manner the provisions.” Since the agency never provided Rivera what the court defined as a written copy of the contract, the agreement was unenforceable.
You can bet Rivera was upset. And when Actors are upset, the easiest way to voice their opinion is through Twitter.
** Ari is a William Morris partner.