Terrence Howard Sues Former Agency CAA Over Alleged Underpayment Due to Racist Bias During His Run on “Empire”

At a press conference on Friday, Howard claimed he "trusted CAA to look after me, and they looked after themselves," adding that he never received things that are "immediately given or asked for by agents of white actors"

Frazer Harrison/Getty Terrence Howard
Frazer Harrison/Getty Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard is suing his former agency CAA for breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud and fraudulent representation.

According to a complaint that was filed in Los Angeles and obtained by PEOPLE, Howard alleges that the agency neglected to act in his best interest and negotiate a higher salary during his time portraying music mogul Lucius Lyon on Fox’s Empire.

The complaint claims that CAA also represented producers Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and became the “packaging agent for the project” and thus were “willing to waive their standard 10% agency.”

Because of this, the complaint alleges that the agency informed Howard that “their compensation was being built into the project’s budget and paid separately.”

FOX/Getty Images Terrence Howard on 'Empire'
FOX/Getty Images Terrence Howard on 'Empire'

Related: Terrence Howard Says He's Planning to Retire from Acting: 'I've Given the Very Best that I Have'

Though he was “unfamiliar with particularities involved in these types of packaging deals,” the complaint claims that Howard “continued to believe that his agents were serving his best interests at all times.” It also states that he wasn’t privy to the “conflicts of interest” involved in the deal.

The complaint notes that the actor believed it was “commendable of them to avoid ‘double dipping’ on fees obtained as the packaging agent and those fees obtained from their actors.”

The practice of agencies receiving packaging fees has since been banned after Writers Guild of America fought to reform the practice in 2020.

A spokesperson for CAA, as well as reps for Daniels and Strong, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Larry Busacca/Getty Terrence Howard
Larry Busacca/Getty Terrence Howard

Related: Vivica A. Fox Doesn't Think 'Empire' Costar Terrence Howard Will Really Quit Acting Like He Says

According to the complaint, it wasn’t until “years later” that “Howard would discover that CAA was in fact keeping his best interests at the forefront” and prioritized their “own financial interests as well as the interests of the Production Companies they also represented ahead of his own.”

When Empire debuted on Fox in January 2015, the musical drama became an instant hit. The series received critical acclaim and marked Fox’s “highest rated debut in three years,” according to the lawsuit.

Despite its massive success, the complaint states that Howard was paid $125,000 per episode as negotiated in the actor’s initial “pilot agreement." If the series were to be picked up by the network, the “pilot agreement” set forth an “episodic fee schedule for several seasons.”

The complaint alleges that Howard was able to “renegotiate his per episodic fees by double” around June 27, 2016, though his overall salary was “still below the standard of the star lead actor on an extraordinarily popular and successful television show.”

FOX Image Collection via Getty Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson in 'Empire'
FOX Image Collection via Getty Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson in 'Empire'

Related: Terrence Howard Was Almost Kicked Off 'Empire', According to Management Company's $250,000 Lawsuit

As Empire continued to grow in popularity and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in profit, the lawsuit claims that Howard “once again” asked his agents at CAA to request his overall salary increase “to reflect comparable compensation packages” of other lead actors in successful shows.

In response to his request, the complaint alleges that his CAA agents gave him a list of compensation numbers that other lead actors received for their roles at the time. It claims that Kevin Spacey’s compensation for House of Cards and John Hamm’s for Mad Men were at the top of the list for a “total episodic fee for Season 4 of $450k and $350k respectively.”

“Because Howard was being represented by CAA,” the complaint says he had “no context” behind Spacey and Hamm’s episodic fees. Empire’s viewership far exceeded both House of Cards and Mad Men at the time and “other actors listed from the alphabet networks, did not have ratings remotely close to Howard.”

“He reasonably believed that the comparisons that his agents were provided to him were an accurate reflection of what he should be paid,” the complaint adds.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images Terrence Howard
Jason Kempin/Getty Images Terrence Howard

Related: Terrence Howard Says He Misses Jussie Smollett on 'Empire' : 'The Heart of Our Show Is Gone'

Around 2021, Howard “discovered” that the “representations made by his agents regarding the comparisons discussed in 2018 were in fact misleading," according to the complaint. It claims that the agency neglected to properly reflect fees Howard “would have been entitled” to by “excluding” other popular shows like Game of Thrones, Gilmore Girls, Big Bang Theory and others.

The complaint continues, “Had Howard been provided that information, which would have more accurately reflected what his compensation should have been, as Howard’s agent, CAA would have been duty bound to make their best efforts to renegotiate Howard’s compensation to accurately reflect what he should have been paid for such a popular television."

Howard is seeking compensation for "exemplary and/or punitive damage," legal fees and "other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper."

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At a press conference held on Friday, Howard claimed he "trusted CAA to look after me, and they looked after themselves." He also alleged he “never received the compensation as a producer or any of those things that are immediately given or asked for by agents of white actors."

Howard's attorney, Carlos Moore shared the same sentiments, declaring that "discovery will show this was racism."

“There’s two types of lawyers in LA, two types of lawyers pretty much in the world,” Howard said, adding that the lawsuit may be a "death blow" to his career. “Those that work for Disney, or those that want to work for Disney. The conflicts of interest were there.”

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