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Actor files lawsuit over employment contract

There are many fields of employment that tend to include employment contracts here in Michigan and throughout the country. One of these is the television industry, wherein actors and actresses often work under the terms of a contract that governs the compensation, severance and benefits that they will be entitled to earn while under employment.

Another set of stipulations that may be included in an employment contract is a morality clause. This is because those who hire actors and actresses to be the face of a product, TV show or a business want to ensure that the person they hire behaves in a responsible manner and does not attract negative publicity. The fear is that if the paid spokesperson is in the limelight for undesirable behavior then the business or program's reputation may suffer as a result.

Is this why a marketing company reneged on an employment contract with actor Corbin Bernsen? Bernsen may be a familiar name to Michigan TV viewers as he played Arnie Becker on the hit TV series "L.A. Law."

Bernsen says that he is owed nearly $700,000 on a $1 million employment contract between himself and a company that hired him to be the spokesman in a series of television advertisements for law firms.

The company refuses to pay him, claiming Bernsen breached the morality clause in his contract.

Specifically, the company claims that Bernsen's tax dispute with the IRS, an assault that took place at a bar and inappropriate statements made on a television show are sufficient reasons to constitute a breach of the employment agreement.

Bernsen disagrees, which led to this contract dispute. He says that his dispute with the IRS has been resolved, and in any event it would not be a violation of a morality clause. With respect to the fight at the bar, he says he was defending a female employee. Finally, he says, the remarks made on the television show occurred prior to his entering into the employment contract.

How a judge will rule in this employment contract dispute remains to be seen. For now, this dispute is a reminder of how important it is to seek legal counsel prior to entering into any employment contract to be sure it protects your interests.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, "L.A. Law" star testifies in contract dispute in Norfolk," Tim McGlone, Nov. 8, 2012

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