MediaLink Ex-CEO Michael Kassan Sues UTA Lawyer for $125 Million for Defamation | Exclusive

The suit is the latest salvo in a dizzying litany of legal actions flying between Kassan and UTA over his departure

Michael Kassan at The Relevance Conference in 2019 (Getty Images)

MediaLink founder and advertising rainmaker Michael Kassan is suing United Talent Agency’s attorney Bryan Freedman for $125 million for allegedly trying to destroy his reputation and ability to compete by branding him a “pathological liar” who has a “mental disease,” new court papers show.

UTA bought MediaLink from Ascential Plc in December 2021 for the same amount — $125 million — bringing Kassan and the company’s 150 employees into the agency. But things soured between the advertising powerhouse and the agency’s CEO Jeremy Zimmer, allegedly over huge expense accounts and power struggles.

Kassan quit UTA on March 6 and was fired by the agency a day later.

In legal papers filed in California Superior Court on Thursday, which were obtained by TheWrap, Kassan’s attorney Sanford Michelman alleges that Freedman defamed his client to a reporter at Deadline for an article published on March 25 by saying “that Kassan compulsively and repeatedly lies because Kassan has the clinical pathology of a mental disease — a ‘pathological liar.’”

Michelman added that “Freedman took aim at the heart of Kassan’s livelihood and profession and engaged in a sharp-shooting character assassination plan” that was “malicious and intentional.”

Freedman maintained Thursday in a statement to TheWrap that “facts are not defamation” and “Michael Kassan’s continuous baseless filings and statements are nothing more than an attempt to create a false media narrative and divert attention from his fraudulent activities.”

“Today we filed our response rejecting all of Kassan’s arbitration claims,” Freedman continued. “While MediaLink will continue to focus on providing excellent work for its clients, UTA will continue to pursue Kassan for the millions he stole.”

Deadline is owned by Penske Media, which has previously been represented by Freedman, whose celebrity clients have included Christopher Nolan, Julia Roberts, Robert Downey Jr. and Don Lemon.

In the suit, Kassan also claims that he waived his $10 million severance package to keep his right to compete against UTA by setting up a new firm. Freedman, he says, has since unleashed “a scheme of trying to create a non-compete by defamation.” Plus, he alleges UTA has gone on a “vitriolic media blitz to tarnish Kassan’s reputation in the industry.”

The suit is the latest legal grenade in a dizzying barrage of suits flying between the warring sides.

Kassan first filed his legal action, a demand for arbitration, on March 12 for breach of contract and fraud, saying the agency had not kept its side of the deal terms when MediaLink was sold to UTA in 2021, promising him a $950,000-a-year “special expenses budget” and control of UTA’s marketing division. Kassan says he was promised the expense budget to use “as he saw fit.”

UTA then filed a civil suit  against Kassan, alleging “misappropriation of company funds.” The agency claimed Kassan “abused his title and authority” and had “run rampant with his business expense accounts — wasting millions of UTA’s dollars on his lavish personal lifestyle,” which included personal private jet travel for him and his family, a credit card for his wife to buy gifts for staff and clients, and payments for a driver’s apartment and a personal housekeeper.

But Freedman added allegations to UTA’s ensuing arbitration filing – including that Kassan obtained a $43,100 PPP loan for his personal S Corp, Michael E. Kassan Inc during the pandemic.

The transaction took place even though Kassan had sold MediaLink for $69 million in cash in February 2017 to Ascential, which owns Cannes Lions, the festival at which Kassan and his firm are ubiquitous. According to ProPublica’s database of PPP loan activities, Kassan’s PPP loan was forgiven in August 2021.

The marriage of MediaLink and UTA was thought to be a coup for the Hollywood talent agency but quickly soured over culture clashes and Kassan’s allegedly rampant spending.

Kassan founded MediaLink in 2003 as an advisory firm to the media, marketing and advertising industries. He advises almost all Hollywood’s major studios on their relationships with major brands – and vice versa.

Dubbed “The Media Mafia” by Vox because of its deep influence in the industry, MediaLink has a client list that includes J.P. Morgan Chase, GE, Unilever, Kraft, AT&T, The New York Times, NewsCorp, Conde Nast and Time Inc.


One response to “MediaLink Ex-CEO Michael Kassan Sues UTA Lawyer for $125 Million for Defamation | Exclusive”

  1. Sandra Avatar

    Bryan Freedman is the worst kind of scum! You don’t pay out $120K to silence a victim when you didn’t rape them! Disgusting

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