Having hired sharp-elbowed litigators Skip Miller and Alexander Frid this weekend, fired Criminal Minds star Thomas Gibson looks inclined to launch a lawsuit against ABC Studios. But he might want to call Nicollette Sheridan first.
“He needs to show the studio fired him for no good reason,” a prominent Hollywood lawyer said of the challenges Gibson faces taking on the same studio the ex-Desperate Housewives star has been fighting in the courts for six years. “His contract might spell out they need cause, and in court they could spell that out in a million different ways, like putting the studio’s name in a bad light by his behavior or their obligation to provide a safe workplace environment.”
Gibson, a Criminal Minds original cast member, first was suspended then cut loose by ABC Studios on August 12, about two weeks after an on-set incident in which the actor supposedly kicked co-executive producer Virgil Williams. It wasn’t the first time the actor had been involved in a physical altercation on the set of the long-running procedural, which paid him some $5 million a year. Back in 2010, the actor who played Special Agent Aaron Hotchner was sent to anger-management classes after reportedly shoving assistant director Ian Woolf.
Additionally, an unresolved 2014 lawsuit over unpaid commissions from Gibson’s ex-manager Craig Dorfman lists several instances of the actor’s behavior crossing the line. Among them, Dorfman cited verbal altercations with fellow actors Mandy Patinkin and Shemar Moore and a claim the manager “talked Gibson out of physically attacking Moore.”
“Saying this had happened before and ABC Studios had let him stay on the show will carry little water even with a street fighter like Skip in his corner, ” the lawyer added of Gibson’s past incidents and his newly retained attorney, who has been representing Byron Allen in his multibillion-dollar discrimination suits against AT&T and Comcast. “Gibson would need to link his termination to protected basis like gender, race, age or religion, and I don’t see that here.”With limited legal options, there could be an attempt to reframe the players in the July incident that sparked Gibson’s dismissal. The actor’s team is believed to be looking into Williams’ background, which includes a reported incident a decade ago on the set of ER. According to a former PA on that show who contacted Deadline, Williams received a one-episode suspension in 2006 after verbally threatening her. There were no further repercussions for Williams, who continued on the medical drama until its 2009 finale. ER producer WBTV would not comment on HR-related matters.
We hear the incident between Williams and Gibson was thoroughly vetted by ABC Studios, including interviews with everyone who witnessed the altercation. We also hear that Williams had been cleared of wrongdoing and will continue as a co-executive producer on Criminal Minds.Observers don’t expect deficiencies in ABC Studios’ investigation given the studios’ protracted legal battle with former Desperate Housewives co-star Sheridan over her termination.
“Look at how Nicollette Sheridan is still plugging away with reduced claims and ABC is fighting back even harder,” another Hollywood legal heavyweight says of Sheridan’s roller-coaster battle with the studios over being canned from the primetime soap in 2009 — not long after EP Marc Cherry allegedly struck her and she reported it to HR. “In that context, you think they would have fired Gibson without making sure all the T’s are crossed? Unlikely. Even more unlikely is that they aren’t ready to spill a whole bunch of beans on Gibson if he sues them.”
After a mistrial in 2012 and a number of tries in the courts, Sheridan now is poised for a potential new trial to start next year on a claim of retaliation. “Here it was Gibson doing the hitting, not someone hitting him as Sheridan says, so with his history, it’s going to be a real challenge and probably a long, long haul,” the lawyer asserted.