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Monday, May 16, 2022

Social Media Lawsuit Not So Funny for Wayans

An odd suit filed by actor Pierre Daniel against comedian Marlon Wayans holds several not-so-funny lessons for business owners about the Brave New World of social media. Wayans, a brother in the well-known show biz family, hired Daniel last September to work on the movie “Haunted House 2.” During filming, Wayans sent a tweet to his followers with a link showing side-by-side images of Daniel and Cleveland Brown, a cartoon character from the TV show “Family Guy.” The text, using racial epithets, compared the two images and included a reference to the movie. The suit, filed by attorney Christina Pisikian of the firm Reisner & King LLP in Sherman Oaks, alleges Wayans and the Beverly Hills production company IM Global misappropriated Daniel’s name and likeness, in addition to harassing him based on race and wrongfully terminating him from the film. Reisner & King did not respond to a request for comment, nor did IM Global. Despite the fact both the plaintiff and defendant are African American, the complaint accuses Wayans of making fun of Daniels’ race by name-calling, mocking his Afro haircut and sending the tweet. It further alleges that Daniel didn’t give permission for his photo to be used to promote the movie on Twitter. Adam Grant, partner in Internet law at Alpert Barr & Grant in Encino, said the suit mixes two types of law – employment and misappropriation of name or likeness. In terms of social media, it provides a cautionary example of what can happen when casual tweets go too far. Grant said a lot of companies encourage their employees to promote the business through Facebook, LinkedIn or, in this case, Twitter. But the companies need to have guidelines on how to use these distribution channels. “Employers need proper policies because you don’t want employees posting inappropriate comments or pictures,” he said. “Policies should be written and employees need to be reminded of them on a regular basis.” Karen Gabler, partner at employment law firm LightGabler LLP in Camarillo, said it’s unusual for an African-American to accuse another African-American of racial harassment – but it’s possible. “Just because you are one, that doesn’t mean you are OK with offensive behavior,” she said. “In harassment, you’re looking at whether the behavior is welcome.” Gabler noted that the workplace was the set of a comedy movie, so if the jokes were in the script, that makes them part of the work. “But if this is making fun of him in front of the team, that’s not going to work,” she said. “(The location) really doesn’t change the standard of behavior.” On the defamation charge, Grant believes Wayans has a good defense as it was his opinion that the two images looked similar, and opinions are protected by the First Amendment. On the misappropriation charge, he said it’s unclear whether inclusion of the Twitter handle “@ahhmovie” made the entire tweet an advertisement. But the take-away from the complaint is pretty clear. “From an overall business standpoint, is it a good idea to tweet something like this? No,” Grant said. At this point, Wayans and others have received the suit but no court date is scheduled. Latino Outreach Teresa Quevedo, a former news anchor at KMEX-TV (Channel 34), is now community relations manager at Pisegna & Zimmerman. The Sherman Oaks firm, which also has offices in Canoga Park and Los Angles, specializes in personal injury, auto accidents and workers compensation cases. The firm has three attorneys, William Zimmerman, Lori de Cristo and David Greenberg. Quevedo worked at KMEX, the largest Univision Communications Inc. station in the country in terms of audience, for 22 years but was let go in December. For 16 years, she was anchor for the 6 o’clock news, making her a familiar personality in the Spanish-speaking market. In her new job, Quevedo works at getting referrals from Hispanic organizations and she represents the firm at the many non-profit and civic events she emcees and attends. The firm plans to start advertising with her image gradually, first on Spanish-language radio and then on buses and TV early next year. “They aren’t used to advertising, but they are good at word-of-mouth,” she told the Business Journal. “I’m trying to take them to another level.” Quevedo said she was approached by larger law firms, but went with Pisegna & Zimmerman because she has known them for years and trusts the quality of service. “Even if other lawyers offer me more money, I feel better with this one, but I have to get them used to advertising,” she explained. Staff Writer Joel Russell can be reached at (818) 316-3124 or jrussell@sfvbj.com.

Joel Russel
Joel Russel
Joel Russell joined the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006 as a reporter. He transferred to sister publication San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2012 as managing editor. Since he assumed the position of editor in 2015, the Business Journal has been recognized four times as the best small-circulation tabloid business publication in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Previously, he worked as senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine and editor of Business Mexico.

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