Supreme Court of California - 3 Cal. 3d 176
In the 1970 California Supreme Court case, Parker v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., actress Shirley MacLaine Parker sued a film studio for breaking a contract where she was promised a role in a musical movie "Bloomer Girl". The studio didn't make the movie and instead offered her a role in a western film, "Big Country, Big Man," which she declined. The studio claimed Parker didn't lessen her damages by refusing the alternative offer.
The court ruled in Parker's favor, stating the studio had to show that the new role was comparable or very similar to the initial one, which they didn't do. Parker was awarded her full salary of $750,000 plus interest. This case is significant because it set the standard that an employee who is wrongfully discharged can recover the agreed-upon salary for the service period, minus what the employer proves the employee made or could've made from other similar employment. The case also acknowledged the artistic and personal interests of performers in selecting roles and projects, dismissing the idea that any film role is equivalent to another. This case is frequently referenced to demonstrate how contract law can safeguard creative professionals from unfair or harsh treatment by employers.
The defendant, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, breached a written contract with a well-known actress for her services as the female lead in a motion picture. The plaintiff filed a complaint with two causes of action: one for money due under the contract and the other for damages resulting from the defendant's breach of contract. The trial court correctly ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the judgment was affirmed on appeal. The defendant's claim that the plaintiff deliberately failed to mitigate damages by unreasonably refusing its offer was denied. The court ruled that the substitute employment offer for "Big Country" was inferior because it proposed to eliminate or impair the director and screenplay approvals that the plaintiff had under the original "Bloomer Girl" contract. The deprivation or infringement of an employee's rights under an original employment contract would convert the available "other employment" into inferior employment, which the employee is not required to accept. The rule of mitigating damages applies to wrongfully terminated employees who must make a reasonable effort to secure other employment of the same quality and in the same field as their previous employment. The employee is not obligated to accept any and all types of work, but only a different kind of employment. The relevant question is whether the omission of a particular provision creates employment of an inferior kind, which requires a factual inquiry to determine the importance of the contract term and weigh its absence against the advantages of the alternate employment. The judgment should be reversed so that the issue of whether the offered lead role was comparable to the previous role may be determined at trial.
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