Economist and writer and humorist and actor Ben Stein has filed suit against Kyocera Corp and advertising agency Seiter & Miller alleging that an agreement for him to appear in TV commercials was illegally breached because of his personal and political beliefs about global warming. Stein’s memorable jacket-and-tie deadpan persona has figured in numerous TV commercials and appearances. Not to mention his iconic turn in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. According to Stein’s suit, Grace Jao of Seiter & Miller in December 2010 contacted his agent Marcia Hurwitz of Innovative Artists about appearing in commercials for Kyocera printer products and about speaking at a company function. Over the course of about five weeks, the suit claims, the parties reached an agreement on all significant deal points including payment of Stein’s fee of $300,000 for shooting the commercials and for the speaking engagement. The circumstances led Hurwitz to believe the deal was done, the suit says, and Stein planned accordingly.
Early in February 2011 Jao contacted Hurwitz, the suit says, to inform the agent that questions had been raised over Stein’s beliefs about global warming and the environment and whether they were “sufficiently conventional and politically correct for Kyocera,” according to language in the suit. Hurwitz told Jao that as far as she was concerned the deal was done, the suit said, and Stein’s political and scientific views were not part of his contract for extolling the company’s printers. Stein told Hurwitz to inform the defendants that he was extremely concerned with environmental issues but he was no means certain that global warming was manmade. He also told her to inform the defendants that it was a matter of his religious beliefs that God and not man controlled the weather.
On February 16, 2011, Livingston Miller, president of the ad agency, informed Hurwitz via email that the agency had decided to “withdraw its offer” even though negotiations had resulted in an acceptance of the offer and other stipulations. The reason? According to the suit, because of “Ben’s official positions on various policy issues that appear on the web of which we have only lately become aware.” Kyocera and the agency Seiter & Miller then hired a Ben Stein lookalike, the suit alleges, and dressed him with a tie, sport jacket and glasses and brazenly misappropriated Stein’s public persona for commercials — thereby intentionally inflicting emotional distress on Stein.
In addition to breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing, Stein’s suit charges Kyocera, Seiter & Miller and associated individuals of illegal religious discrimination and with wrongful discharge for political expression, which are illegal under California law. Stein seeks the sum of $300,000 for work he agreed to do, attorney fees and court costs and punitive damages.