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Parker v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff Parker, better known as actress Shirley MacLaine, contracted with Defendant, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., to play the female lead in the film “Bloomer Girl.”  Defendant thereafter repudiated the agreement by not producing the picture and instead offered Plaintiff the lead female role in another picture entitled “Big Country, Big Man.”  Plaintiff declined, and initiated this action to recover $750,000, the amount she was to be paid under the contract.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The measure of damages owed to a wrongfully discharged employee is the amount of salary agreed upon for the period of employment reduced by the amount the employer proves the employee has earned or with reasonable effort may have earned from other employment.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff contracted with Defendant to play the female lead in the movie “Bloomer Girl” for a salary of $750,000.  However, Defendant decided not to produce the film and offered instead for Plaintiff to play the lead in another film, “Big Country, Big Man.”  Unlike “Bloomer Girl,” which was to be a musical filmed in California, “Big Country, Big Man” was to be a dramatic western filmed in Australia.  Also, the contract for “Big Country, Big Man” did not grant Plaintiff the same control over the choice of directors and screenplay that her “Bloomer Girl” contract did.  Plaintiff declined to act in “Big Country, Big Man” and sued to recover her guaranteed salary.

    Issue.

    Should Plaintiff’s recovery be limited by her failure to accept substitute work in mitigation of damages?

    Held.

    No.  A wrongfully discharged employee’s recovery of her full salary must be reduced by the amount the breaching employer can prove she earned or with reasonable effort might have earned.  Importantly, the employer must show that the other employment was comparable or substantially similar to that employment of which the employee was deprived.  The employee’s rejection of or failure to seek a different or inferior kind of employment may not be considered.  For the factual differences stated above, acting in “Big Country, Big Man” constituted inferior employment.  Thus, Plaintiff’s refusal to accept the female lead in “Big Country, Big Man” will not reduce her recovery.

    Dissent.

    The majority incorrectly distinguishes between two films, but in fact, the female lead in any movie should qualify as substitute performance.

    Discussion.

    A wrongfully discharged employee is entitled to his lost salary, but he must mitigate damages by seeking alternative employment.  However, he does not need to accept different or inferior employment.


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