February 10, 2017

Venable trial team secures "a groundbreaking ruling" on behalf of Marlon Wayans in First Amendment appellate victory

2 min

A California Appellate Court affirmed the decision of a trial court to dismiss a lawsuit against actor and comedian Marlon Wayans alleging harassment and discrimination over a tweet comparing a movie extra to a cartoon character. In a 50-page opinion by Associate Justice Jeffrey Johnson, the court examined the intersection between racial harassment and speech, and ruled on whether the word "nigga" is a racial epithet when spoken by a black man to another black man and whether it can form the basis of an actionable claim. The court resoundingly ruled that the word was not an epithet but instead was a term of endearment in the context in which it was used, and that Marlon Wayans' First Amendment rights trumped the claim of discrimination because he was creating a scene in a movie when he repeatedly used that word. The court also broke ground by ruling that Wayans' tweet, which contained a picture of the plaintiff and the Cleveland Brown cartoon character, was transformative, since it juxtaposed the images with Wayans' lampoon commentary and therefore was protected speech.

The Appellate Court upheld the award of attorneys' fees and granted additional appellate costs to Marlon Wayans. William Briggs, Celeste Brecht, and Eric Bakewell represented Wayans in the Appellate Court.

Multiple publications featured news of the ruling, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Daily Journal, Law360, and AFP, which was republished in Yahoo News and Daily Mail.