One day after the start of a racial discrimination trial, Universal Pictures struck a settlement Wednesday with the former assistant director who brought the lawsuit, but it continued to defend itself against similar claims by the federal government.
Frank Davis, an African American who was fired as first assistant director on the 2003 movie "2 Fast 2 Furious," settled his complaint for an undisclosed amount. Universal would not comment on the settlement.
The studio has maintained that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's charges are without merit and that Davis was terminated because of his performance.
Davis' attorney, John E. Sweeney, who was seeking a multimillion-dollar settlement, would not comment Wednesday about the terms.
"We had been in settlement negotiations for a while, and it came to fruition this morning," he said.
Anna Park, head regional attorney for the EEOC, said the commission was disappointed that Davis settled so soon into the trial.
Because the government is not seeking financial damages, the seven-member jury was dismissed and the trial will now be decided by U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess.
"This is bigger than Mr. Davis," Park said. "We are there to hold industries accountable."
The EEOC is seeking court-enforced monitoring, oversight of the studio's hiring and firing practices and remedies for training and complaint procedures.
"2 Fast 2 Furious" director John Singleton maintained throughout his testimony, which ended Wednesday, that he was opposed to the firing of Davis, 47.
In his testimony Wednesday, Davis said, "I did what I was supposed to be doing and I was fired."
Andrew Fenady, the Universal production executive who oversaw the film, tried to cast doubt Wednesday on the government's assertions that race played a role in Davis' firing.
He testified that he had reservations about Davis' lack of experience as a first assistant director on any movie with the budget and complexity of "2 Fast 2 Furious."
Fenady said those doubts arose before he was aware Davis was African American. Fenady said his concern mounted when he attended a meeting in August 2002, after Davis was hired, during which the first assistant director seemed to lack "command" of how complex scenes would be coordinated.
By September, when filming began in Miami, production staff told Fenady that Davis was "a weak link," and that the production was going to suffer, Fenady said. In a movie, the first assistant is a key liaison among the director, the crew and the production staff.
Fenady said that on the third day of principal photography the set was in "sheer and total chaos."
But the clincher for him came when the studio's transportation captain said to him that Davis was "going to get someone killed out here," Fenady testified.
Fenady said he flew back to Los Angeles and immediately reported this to his boss. Davis was fired a few days later.
The government maintains that Universal executives did not give Davis written notice of any alleged safety violations and that production reports did not indicate that the project was behind schedule.
Fenady acknowledged as much.
Another witness who took the stand Wednesday brought up the issue of race. A representative of the Directors Guild of America said he was told by Singleton in several conversations that Davis had been fired because he was black.
"Mr. Singleton did not agree with the company's intention to terminate Mr. Davis," said Rodney Mitchell, assistant executive director of the DGA, who said he was called by Singleton in the days leading up to Davis' firing and afterward.
"He believed it was because of racial discrimination and that people there were not comfortable" with an African American in the position of first assistant director, Mitchell testified.
However, Singleton did not file a grievance with the DGA, noted Universal's outside counsel, Steve Cochran.