Ousted agent sues WME, Ari EmanuelMon Nov 30, 2009 @ 05:29PM PST
By Matthew Belloni
John Ferriter's battle with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment has spilled into court. The former WME unscripted guru has sued his former agency for $25 million, claiming he was improperly forced out and subjected to a campaign of lies designed to separate him from his clients.
For those who follow agency politics, the suit provides an interesting blow-by-blow account of Ferriter's alleged ouster from the recently created WME, including his sole vote against the merger of WMA and Endeavor, his falling out with new management and the alleged efforts by Ari Emanuel, Rick Rosen and Mark Itkin (all named as defendants) to destroy his career. The suit was filed Nov 17 in Los Angeles Superior Court but found its way into our inbox only today.
According to the complaint, toward the end of 2008, Ferriter and his lawyer sat down with WMA execs Jim Wiatt, Irv Weintraub and Itkin to discuss a new employment contract. They allegedly agreed to a 3-year deal that would pay him no less than $2 million annually. Also, "Wiatt and Weintraub expressly promised Ferriter that if he committed to another employment term, there would be no changes to his reporting structure," the lawsuit reads.
But "unbeknownst to Ferriter, Wiatt, Weintraub and three other WMA board members, Dave Wirtschafter, John Fogelman and Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, had been negotiating in secret with representatives of Endeavor and were already working out the terms of a merger between the WMA and Endeavor agencies," the complaint continues.
Ferriter claims the WMA braintrust knew the merged entity would not include him as a board member or as head of the unscripted department. Even when he heard the rumors of a merger and confronted Wiatt and Weintraub, they denied it was happening, he says.
When the rumors proved true, Ferriter claims he sat down with Emanuel and Rosen to ask what his role would be at the merged agency. He alleges they said Ferriter and Itkin would "continue to run the department just as they had done in the past."
Then Ferriter got sick and ended up in the hospital during the 2 months when the merger was finalized. When he returned in July he discovered that he was not on the board of directors of the new agency and had been "demoted and marginalized" in ways such as being excluded from client meetings; losing his EVP title; being subjected to defamatory statements to "employees and third parties"; and ultimately being barred from the WME premises.
Ferriter claims Emanuel, Rosen and Itkin also embarked on an "intentional and malicious course of conduct" designed to purge Ferriter from the agency and his clients. That strategy allegedly included telling managers of Ferriter clients that he had left the agency and on October 16 planting a false and defamatory item on an "industry blog" (presumably this Nikki Finke post) claiming Ferriter "hated coming into the office." Ferriter says that post prompted his lawyers to demand that WME higher-ups stop making "false, derogatory and defamatory statements about his employment status."
Even though Ferriter says he hadn't resigned from WME, other agents allegedly were assigned to his clients. WME finally "terminated" him "for cause" on November 6, he says. He's now suing for unspecified damages for fraud, breach of contract, defamation and other claims, as well as $25 million for "exemplary and punitive damages."
Ferriter's 8-count complaint includes causes of action for fraud in the inducement of contract (intentional misrepresentation); fraud in the inducement of contract (negligent misrepresentation); breach of contract; unlawful termination of employment; defamation (slander); defamation (libel); conversion and declaratory relief).
We've reached out to WME for comment. We'll post it if/when we get it. (UPDATE: WME says it isn't commenting on the suit.)
A case management conference is set for March 10.
Ferriter is repped by William Neasham, Patricia Kramer and Chad Vierra of Neasham & Kramer in Gold River, Ca.