Jussie Smollett, an actor of the FOX television series “Empire”, was arrested and charged with filing a false police report, where he claimed to have been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. Following an investigation, the Chicago Police Department (“Chicago PD”) announced that the attack was a hoax orchestrated by Smollett, to get FOX to increase his salary. The Chicago PD has filed charges while Smollet maintains his innocence.
This incident (along with the recent cases of alleged sexual harassment by Hollywood actors) has led to increased focus and scrutiny of morality clauses in entertainment contracts. A morality clause is a provision that holds a party to the contract to certain behavioural standards. It requires that a party shall not bring dishonour, disrepute and/or scandal to other party or parties to the contract. A morality clause is used to protect and safeguard the public and private image of the employer since the employee is representing the reputation and goodwill of the organisation.
We are not privy to the terms of Jussie Smollet employment contract but it is almost certain that said contract contains a morality clause entitling FOX to suspend and at the appropriate time terminate his employment in the event of a breach of its provision. At the time of writing this article, FOX had suspended Smollet from Empire following the criminal charges made against him.
In a similar situation American competitive swimmer and 12-time Olympic medallist, Ryan Lochte lost all of his endorsements after he and three of his teammates falsely claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint during the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
It is essential that talents ensure that the morality clause in their contracts are well-negotiated. Furthermore, they must be aware of the elements of such a clause to ensure that they behave accordingly as failure to do so might result in significant consequential financial loss.
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