The Reason Newman's Own Is Facing A Major Lawsuit

It may be best known for its line of food and beverage products including dressings and sauces, but The Wall Street Journal reports that the Newman's Own Foundation, which oversees the food company with the same name, may also soon become known for a brewing legal feud involving the non-profit established by Hollywood actor Paul Newman in 1982, and two of his actor's daughters. 

The late actor's daughters, Susan and Elinor "Nell" Newman, said their father had made it a condition that the foundation could use his image if it gave his daughters $400,000 a year to give to charities of their choosing, per Courthouse News. Instead, Newman's Own has cut the amount of money it has given both Susan and Elinor — and Courthouse News says they are afraid they will eventually lose any allocations that had been intended for them.

"Over the years, however, Newman's Own Foundation lost its way and strayed from its mission to preserve and honor Paul Newman's legacy," asserts the complaint, which has been excerpted in Courthouse News and totals 34 pages in length. "The years since Mr. Newman's death consist of a long and consistent pattern of disregard, by those in control, of Mr. Newman's specific intentions and direction, coupled with mismanagement, scandal, and questionable practices."

Members of Newman's family say the foundation is being mismanaged

The Wall Street Journal says that of the late actor Paul Newman's five surviving children — his son passed away in 1978 of a drug overdose, per Vanity Fair — only two are suing the foundation. Newman's three other daughters and his wife Joanne Woodward have chosen not to comment on the legal action.

The lawsuit, which looks to recoup $1.6 million in damages, isn't meant to benefit the plaintiffs. As Andy Lee, a lawyer with the firm that is representing the Newmans told the WSJ, the settlement "simply seeks to hold Newman's Own Foundation accountable to the charities they have shortchanged in recent years." 

The suit also alleges that the focus of the foundation's donations has shifted from Newman's original remit, including arts, "climate change awareness," and the environment, to what it is today. In May, the foundation said it would be helping seriously ill children. In announcing the shift, current CEO Miriam Nelson had said, "We believe that if Paul Newman were still with us today, he would embrace our focus on kids."

The Newman family has been unhappy for a while

That a lawsuit involving the Newman's Own Foundation was filed in the first place may not come as a surprise to anyone within the orbit of Paul Newman's family. In 2015, Vanity Fair ran an in-depth look at the discontent brewing between Nell Newman and the foundation that bore her father's name and image. The piece had focused on Nell's disappearance from Newman's Own Organics, which sells salad dressings and sauces, and put the spotlight on Robert H. Forrester, who took over Newman's food company as well as his charitable foundation following the actor's death. Speaking to Vanity Fair, daughter Susan Newman had this to say: "Whether my family will go public [with our complaints] or not, there isn't a single living Newman who respects or has faith in Robert Forrester and his management of my father's food company, Newman's Own Foundation." 

"Some family members may be angry at me for speaking out," Susan continued. "But I feel like the Newman family has been taken hostage by Bob Forrester." She alleges that he "seems to be more interested in self-aggrandizement and lavish trappings," adding that her "father would never support many of the things he is doing." The Wall Street Journal reports that Forrester eventually left his position as CEO of the foundation in 2019, after charges of misconduct were raised by employees. It was just one year later that the Newman daughters saw their financial allocations reduced.