NEW YORK — The family of Geoffrey Bowers, a lawyer who brought one of the first AIDS employment discrimination cases in the United States, has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Hollywood producer Scott Rudin, TriStar Pictures and the creators of the movie "Philadelphia," charging that the film is substantially based on Bowers' story.
Bowers' two brothers and his attorneys said Tuesday that they had met numerous times in 1988 with Rudin, an independent producer, providing him with information and access to Bowers' legal hearing that they say are reflected in "Philadelphia."
In a suit filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, the estate and family of Bowers, who died in 1987, are seeking $10 million in damages and an acknowledgment that the film is based on Bowers' story.
The family said they have received no acknowledgment or financial compensation for the information they provided, despite what they said was an oral agreement with Rudin to provide such recognition. "Philadelphia," the first mainstream Hollywood movie about AIDS, has grossed $36.6 million so far.
In addition to Rudin and TriStar, the distributor of "Philadelphia," the suit also names as defendants Jonathan Demme, director and co-producer of the movie; co-producer Ed Saxon and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner.
Noting that the studio had not yet been served with the lawsuit, TriStar senior vice president Ed Russell, issued a statement Tuesday saying, "The film 'Philadelphia' is not the story of Geoffrey Bowers. 'Philadelphia' is a fictional story which addresses a regrettably recurring theme of AIDS discrimination in this country. TriStar Pictures is very proud of 'Philadelphia.'
"There is no merit to the lawsuit, and we're confident we will be vindicated in this matter."
Rudin is not listed in the movie's credits and the studio said he had nothing to do with the production of "Philadelphia." Neither he nor the other defendants returned a reporter's phone calls.
Bowers, then a New York attorney, filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights in 1986, charging that he had been fired from his job at the Chicago-based Baker and McKenzie law firm after AIDS-related lesions appeared on his face. Two months after testifying at a hearing on the complaint, he died at age 33. The case was resolved in his favor in late December, when Baker and McKenzie was ordered to pay $500,000 to Bowers' estate. The firm said it plans to appeal.
According to the complaint, producer Rudin contacted the Bowers family in 1988, saying that he wanted to make a movie of Bowers' story. Charles Bowers, Geoffrey's brother, said he spent four hours with Rudin recounting personal material that was included in the film. The lawyers said Rudin engaged Nyswaner to write the screenplay and sold his rights to Bowers' story to Orion Pictures, where it went into development under then-executive vice president Marc Platt. In 1991, they said, TriStar acquired Orion's rights to Bowers' story in bankruptcy court.
The Bowers family said they read of "Philadelphia" in 1992. When the family's attorneys contacted Rudin, they said, he acknowledged that the movie was based on the Bowers' story and told them that he had sold the rights to TriStar.
Times staff writer Terry Pristin also contributed to this report.