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Co-workers testify in studio case

Frank Davis, who says Universal wrongly fired him, lacked people skills, witnesses say.

June 15, 2007|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

People who worked closely with Frank Davis on the film "2 Fast 2 Furious" testified Thursday that they found the first assistant director to be uncommunicative and lacking in people skills leading up to his 2002 firing by Universal Pictures from the movie.

The testimony came on the third day of an anti-discrimination government lawsuit against Universal, alleging that Davis, who is African American, was wrongly fired because of his race.

The studio's transportation captain, Walter "Duke" Foster, who worked on "2 Fast 2 Furious," said that he disliked Davis' working style because he lacked organizational skills and had problems communicating.

Another executive who served as a line producer on the film, Lee Mayes, said he was concerned that Davis was not "immersing himself in the project." The first assistant director plays a pivotal role in the movie as the liaison for the director, line producers, producers and crew members. Davis was hired by director John Singleton.

Mayes, who was charged with keeping the production on time and helping to manage it each day, said there were instances of locations not being available on the day they were scheduled to be shot and of high-speed driving occurring without a permit.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed the suit nearly four years ago, maintains that Davis was held to a higher standard than his white colleagues. The agency is seeking court-enforced monitoring and oversight of the studio's hiring and firing practices, among other remedies.

Universal denies that it discriminated against Davis, arguing that he was asked to leave the movie after nearly a week into filming for performance reasons.

On Wednesday, Davis settled his personal suit with the studio for an undisclosed amount.

In Thursday's hearing, government attorneys pointed out that Universal executives said they had problems communicating with Mayes, as they did with Davis. However, Mayes was not fired, and instead Universal hired another person to serve as line producer with Mayes. It is unusual for a movie to have two line producers, Mayes testified.

In addition, another assistant director on the film, Michael Waxman, acknowledged on the stand that under his watch, two helicopters caused minor incidents. He was not reprimanded or fired. Universal has said one reason for dismissing Davis was concerns that the set was unsafe, but there is no written record of safety violations during Davis' time as first assistant director.

Line producer Matthew Weiner, who had worked with Davis in the past but not on "2 Fast 2 Furious," testified that he was confident of Davis' abilities as an assistant director.

U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess , a former federal prosecutor, at times seemed impatient with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney Connie K. Liem.

"Give me a little credit for having sat through 400-plus trials," he said, adding that he did not want information repeated. "Do you understand me?" He also explained routine courtroom procedure to her at one point, saying, "Counsel, you cannot testify," when she answered a question for a witness who was on the stand.

Liem repeatedly described Davis' tenure as his "reign," leading the judge to say, "Counsel, as important as this job is, I don't think this is royalty."

Government lawyers have finished presenting their case. The trial is scheduled to continue today with defense witnesses.

lorenza.munoz@latimes.com

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