Faculty & Leadership Blog / Research and Practice

Professor Lester: Scandal Surrounding Kevin Spacey, Netflix, and Morals Clauses in Celebrity Employment Contracts

Here’s what Law Professor Toni Lester has to say about the current scandal:

“While everyday workers are subjected to anti-sexual harassment laws that allow employers to penalize them for inappropriate work place conduct, recent scandals concerning high powered celebrities like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey might make you wonder if these men are immune to the same laws?

The short answer is “no,” but … most sexual harassment laws limit the time frame (from six months to one year from the date of the incident) during which a victim can sue.

So in the case of Spacey, where one of the incidents supposedly took place over a decade ago in a context that had nothing to do with the popular Netflix series “House of Cards”, how can Netflix drop him from its roster?

The answer is that it is highly likely that Spacey agreed to a morals clause in his contract.

But who gets to decide what is or is not moral?

In my Pace Intellectual Property, Sports & Entertainment Law Forum article, “Finding the ‘Public’ in ‘Public Disrepute’ “, I explore a case involving NFL player Rashad Mendenhall in which Mendenhall sued Hanesbrands for dropping him from an endorsement deal because the company was displeased with a Twitter post he wrote.  The judge there said he would look to how the public responded online to Mendenhall’s behavior.  Thus, courts might look at Twitter posts by fans and haters to determine if a celebrity’s conduct is immoral.

Bottom line – the “Me Too” online campaign’s negative targeting of Spacey for his behavior probably puts Netflix on solid ground should he ever try to challenge its decision.”