Sean Penn has filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Lee Daniels, claiming the Empire co-creator falsely compared him to Empire star Terrence Howard, who recently admitted to hitting his first wife.
“That poor boy,” Daniels told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. “[Terrence] ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some f—in’ demon,” said Daniels. “That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America.”
The complaint, which was filed Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court and obtained by PEOPLE, states: “As a result of Penn’s status as a public figure, he has for years been the subject of scandalous, scurrilous, and baseless attacks. But Penn, like any citizen, has a right to defend himself and will no longer tolerate the reckless and malicious behavior of others, who seek to aggrandize themselves or their projects at his expense. Accordingly, and because of Daniels’ defamatory statements, Penn brings this action for monetary relief, and to deter Daniels and others from their defamatory actions.”
Although a number of outlets including the Los Angeles Times have reported on allegations that Penn was involved in a domestic assault on Madonna in the ’80s, TMZ reports he was never actually charged.
“Daniels falsely equates Penn with Howard, even though, while he has certainly had several brushes with the law, Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest,” Penn’s complaint states. “Nor has Penn admitted to ‘slap[ping]’ a woman or abusing others (as Howard has also reportedly admitted, reportedly asserting that he was acting in self-defense).”
In a statement, Penn’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, tells PEOPLE: “As asserted in the lawsuit, there is also a critical issue at stake here, which is the malicious and reckless repetition of rumors and innuendo at the expense of others. Sean has been subjected to false, baseless and reckless attacks for years, and this is only the most recent example.”
Penn’s legal complaint, which was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, also states that Daniels’ comments are “egregious” on several levels, including that the director “also seems to condone Howard’s reported misconduct.”
Earlier this month, Howard told Rolling Stone that he “slapped” first wife Lori McCommas, but denied hitting her with a closed fist. He was arrested for the incident and pled guilty for disorderly conduct.
“She was talking to me real strong, and I lost my mind and slapped her in front of the kids,” he told the magazine. “Her lawyer said it was a closed fist, but even slapping her was wrong.”
Howard has also been accused of hitting second ex-wife Michelle Ghent, who filed a restraining order against him after she was photographed with a black eye in 2013, something he claims he did in self-defense.
A judge ruled in favor of Howard during their spousal support case last month, despite calling the actor a “bully.”