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Global Warming Fires up a $300K Complaint

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Actor-economist-political pundit Ben Stein claims he was wrongfully fired from a $300,000 job on a TV commercial because of his view of global warming: that "God, and not man" controls the weather.

Stein, a former New York Times columnist who does commercials in his signature bow tie, glasses and a sports jacket, claims a Kyocera Corp. affiliate breached his contract and wrongfully fired him after it learned of his opinion about climate change.

Then, Stein says, Kyocera and its ad agency "in an astonishingly brazen misappropriation of Ben Stein's persona," dressed up a college professor "as Stein often appeared in commercials (bow tie, glasses, sports jacket)" and had the professor do the commercial as a Ben Stein imitator.

Stein sued Kyocera Mita America, Seiter & Miller Advertising and two of its executives - president Livingston Miller and staff member Grace Jao - in Superior Court. He demands $300,000, the amount he says he was promised to do the commercial.

Stein says the ad agency offered him the job in December 2010, through his agent, (nonparty) Marcia Hurwitz.

However, "On or about February 9, 2011, defendant Jao called Hurwitz to tell her that questions had been raised by defendant Kyocera about whether Ben Stein's views on global warming and on the environment were sufficiently conventional and politically correct for Kyocera. (Kyocera, after many years of working with some of the most toxic chemicals in industry, had recently adopted a posture of deep concern for the environment and especially for limiting carbon emissions). Jao said that Kyocera Mita wanted to know more about Ben Stein's views on global warming and if he had questioned whether global warming as manmade could possibly not be true or could be a hoax," the complaint states.

"Hurwitz told defendant Jao that she was perplexed by the inquiry since as far as she was concerned, the deal was done and Ben Stein's political and scientific views on the subject were not part of the contract for Ben Stein to discuss the merits of computer printers.

"However, as a courtesy to the people by whom plaintiff believed himself to be employed, plaintiff informed defendants that he was extremely concerned about the environment, had been for some years, and had often spoken and written about how bad for human lungs it was to put micro-particles into the air by burning coal.

"However, Ben Stein said, he was by no means certain that global warming was man-made, a position held by many scientists and political conservatives. He also told Hurwitz to inform defendants that as a matter of religious belief, he believed that God, and not man, controlled the weather," the complaint says.

Stein says Miller then sent Hurwitz an email that Kyocera was withdrawing its offer, citing Stein's "official positions on various policy issues" and statements attributed to him on the Internet.

Stein claims he has "no 'official positions' on anything and changes his views as facts and analysis compel." He dismisses online statements attributed to him as "anonymous, unsupported gossip."

"Almost immediately after firing Ben Stein, defendants Kyocera Mita/Seiter & Miller approached and then hired an economics teacher at The University of Maryland to do the commercials they had already hired Stein to do. Defendants, in an astonishingly brazen misappropriation of Ben Stein's persona, dressed him up as Stein often appeared in commercials (bow tie, glasses, sports jacket). He was told to perform the commercials and did perform them in a way so derived from Ben Stein's well known persona that The Washington Post described Prof. Morici as looking like an imitation of Ben Stein in so many words," the complaint states.

"This behavior on the part of defendants strikes at such basic American values as the sanctity of contract, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and political freedom, and shows contempt for law," Stein says.

He claims that Kyocera reneged on the deal "on the basis that plaintiff is not sufficiently on defendants' anti-carbon wavelength and on the basis of common unspecified gossip."

One of Stein's early acting roles was as an economics teacher in the 1986 movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

He seeks damages for breach of contract, breach of faith and fair dealing, wrongful discharge, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

He is represented by Michele Abernathy with Gifford Dearing & Abernathy.

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