Howard filed a lawsuit at the Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday (8 December) alleging that his agents prioritized the interests of themselves and the show’s producers in their dealings with Fox.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the actor claims they induced him to accept a below-market salary during his six-season stint on the series.
“I trusted CAA to look after me, and they looked after themselves,” said Howard.
CAA has thus far declined to comment.
Howard’s lawyer James Bryant said that the issue stems from “packaging fees”, where agents are paid directly by a studio for successfully attaching actors or a director to a writer’s pitch.
“Over the last several years, agencies have become much more powerful and found a much more lucrative way of making money,” said Bryant. “It’s by being the packaging agent, where you represent actors, producers, production companies and your own financial interest. That’s where that fiduciary duty begins to break down. That’s why we’re here today.”
As well as Howard, CAA also represented Empire’s co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and production company Imagine Entertainment.
Howard revealed that he was paid $325,000 per episode “at the height of what I was being paid” in the show’s sixth season, which aired in 2020.
Bryant argued that Howard should have been paid at a higher level for playing Lucious Lyon in Empire, in line with the fees received by Kevin Spacey in House of Cards or Jon Hamm in Mad Men. In 2014, it was reported that Spacey was paid $500,000 per episode for his role in the Netflix political drama.
Howard’s lawsuit also claims that there was a racial component to the agency’s alleged failure to negotiate in the best interest of Howard.
“Discovery will show that this was racism,” said Carlos Moore, another of Howard’s lawyers. “You won’t find in discovery that a white actor – Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-nominated – was treated like that.”
This is not the first time that Howard has filed a lawsuit over his compensation for Empire, which was a major hit for Fox during its run from 2015 to 2020. Howard sued 20th Century Studios in 2020 over alleged unpaid royalty fees for the use of his name and likeness on merchandise. Howard claimed the Empire logo was based on an image of his face taken from his 2015 film Hustle & Flow.