Paul Newman's heirs continue legal battle as foundation names new CEO
Amid a legal battle pitting two daughters of the late actor Paul Newman against his namesake charity, the Newman's Own Foundation just named its third lead executive in less than four years — new President and CEO Alex Amouyel. The lawsuit, filed in Connecticut Superior Court, alleges the daughters have not been allowed to direct as many charitable funds as they'd been promised.
The leadership position opened up last June when Miriam Nelson, who had just become CEO in January 2020, announced she'd be leaving. The prior CEO, Robert Forrester, stepped down in 2019 amid allegations of inappropriate behavior toward employees. The daughters' first lawsuit was filed in August and withdrawn in November; a new lawsuit, with substantially similar allegations and a new attorney for the daughters, was filed the same day.
According to court filings, the lawsuit from Elinor "Nell" Newman and Susan Newman claims that Paul Newman had intended for his daughters to allocate $400,000 of the foundation's money every year to charities of their choosing but that since 2020 — the year Nelson took over the foundation — they had instead only been allowed to allocate $200,000 per year. The daughters seek $1.6 million in damages "to be donated to charities in keeping with Paul Newman's wishes," according to the complaint, as well as measures that would safeguard the allocation in the future.
Newman's three other daughters and widow are not a party to the suit. A hearing on the foundation's motion to dismiss is scheduled for March 31.
The foundation has $225 million in assets, primarily through its ownership of the Newman's Own food brand. Since its founding, the foundation has donated more than $600 million to a range of causes.
One issue in the lawsuit is a question of how much funding the foundation receives from the food brand and whether a reduction in that amount has led to less charitable giving. According to filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation had received an average of more than $30 million per year from its businesses for the years 2011 through 2018, but that number dropped significantly, to an average of $23.8 million in 2019 and 2020.
Alongside that came a drop in total charitable spending, from what had also been an average of more than $30 million per year to $26.5 million in 2019 and $15.6 million in 2020.
The lawsuit alleges that this difference is due to a new method of calculating the food brand's contribution, that it used to be calculated as a percentage of gross sales but is now calculated as a portion of funds left over after a variety of expenses, including company salaries, are considered.
It is unclear what new approaches Amouyel may bring to her role as CEO of the foundation. She has a different background from either of her predecessors and is noticeably younger. A 2003 graduate of the University of Cambridge, with a master's degree in international affairs from the London School of Economics, she has worked in the philanthropic world for 15 years, with stints at the International Save the Children Alliance and the Clinton Global Initiative. Since 2016, she had been executive director of Solve, an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A phone call to the Newman daughters' attorney was not returned before deadline.