Jurors Award Valerie Harper $1.4 Million, Cut of Profits
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury determined Friday that actress Valerie Harper was wrongfully fired by Lorimar Television from the NBC series “Valerie” and awarded her $1.4 million in damages plus a share of profits from the show.
“We won financially, we won morally,” said a triumphant Harper after the verdict, which exonerated her of breaching her Lorimar contract by erratic behavior and threats to leave the show. “This is a landmark decision in terms of the way actors are dealt with, and the way people who are wrongfully fired are dealt with.”
Harper added that although the bitter legal battle was “terribly painful,” it was worth it to warn other performers not to “enter into gentlemen’s agreements with people who are not gentlemen.”
After a three-week trial and five days of deliberation, the jury awarded Harper $1.4 million in damages plus 12 1/2% of the profits from the show, $220,000 in compensation for the dismissal of her husband, Tony Cacciotti, as supervising producer and another $200,000 that Harper would have earned by starring in a made-for-television movie for Lorimar as part of her original contract.
Harper’s attorney, Barry Langberg, estimated Lorimar would end up paying Harper somewhere between $10 million and $15 million.
Donald Zachary, an NBC lawyer, estimated that the 12 1/2% of the adjusted gross profits awarded Harper could amount to $150,000 to $210,000 per episode. Harper will receive that percentage for the two years of episodes she completed as well as the 22 episodes she would have done in the 1987-88 TV season had Lorimar not replaced her with Sandy Duncan.
Earlier in the trial, Judge William Hogoboom had dismissed charges by Harper that NBC had conspired with Lorimar to have her fired. Hogoboom also threw out Lorimar’s request for punitive damages from Harper.
Harper starred in the “Valerie” series as housewife Valerie Hogan from September, 1985, to May, 1987. She was dismissed from the show after taping one episode in the fall of 1987, when the series was retitled “Valerie’s Family.” She recently completed a TV movie for NBC and is currently developing another series.
The jury’s vote was unanimous on all counts except on whether Lorimar had been guilty of bad faith, oppression and malice in terminating Harper’s contract; three jurors believed Lorimar’s actions did not represent bad faith--not enough to affect the outcome in the civil case.
Lorimar attorney Don Engle, who charged that the jury’s decision was based on bias against big corporations rather than the law, said that Lorimar had offered Harper “about two-thirds” of what she will receive to settle out of court--and that he had had authority to go higher than the amount Harper won in court. “If he (Harper’s attorney Barry Langberg) wants to tell his client he got a big victory, that’s fine,” he said.
Engle said Lorimar may appeal the decision, but the money involved might not be worth it.
Langberg, however, said the amount Lorimar offered Harper to settle out of court was a “minute fraction” of the jury’s award. “If Lorimar doesn’t mind losing $10 to $15 million, great,” Langberg said, adding jokingly that “maybe that’s why Lorimar has been losing so much money” in recent years.
Langberg said he believed Lorimar had fired Harper because the show’s executive producers, Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett, were unwilling to share creative control of the show with Harper even though consulting rights were in her contract.
Harper said Lorimar fired her “because they could get away with it--because they have their own personal agenda that I didn’t know about.”
Harper said some Lorimar executives displayed “two-facedness in the extreme” in their testimony that her behavior made them fear for her sanity. In response to questions about whether sexism was involved in Lorimar’s lawsuit, Harper replied: “I think the boy’s club was at work here,” citing an implication in some testimony that she was displaying erratic behavior because she was menopausal.
Harper said in an interview that she plans to sue producers Miller and Boyett for libel for saying in written depositions that she was “disabled as an actress” by her temperament.
Engle said Miller and Boyett have already filed suit against Harper for calling them “perjurers” on a recent television talk show.