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Paul Newman’s daughters sue Newman’s Own Foundation over ‘questionable practices’

Two of Newman's daughters claim the actions of Newman’s Own Foundation violate "the strict condition that Paul Newman imposed upon" the organization.
Newman's Own Alfredo pasta sauce.
Newman's Own Alfredo pasta sauce.Billy Blume / Alamy Stock Photo

Paul Newman’s daughters are suing Newman’s Own Foundation over what they claim to be “questionable practices” conducted by the charitable organization.

On Aug. 23, Nell and Susan Newman, two daughters among the late Paul Newman's six children, filed suit against the Newman’s Own Foundation (NOF) in Connecticut state court. According to the suit filed, the daughters allege that NOF improperly reduced the charitable contributions controlled by the daughters from $400,000 to $200,000 per daughter annually starting in 2020.

“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,” reads the complaint.

The lawsuit also claims that over the years, NOF “lost its way and strayed from its mission to preserve and honor Paul Newman’s legacy.”

Clea Newman, Susan Newman and Nell Newman
Clea Newman, Susan Newman and Nell Newman attend the SeriousFun Children's Network 2015 Los Angeles Gala: An Evening Of SeriousFun celebrating the legacy of Paul Newman on May 14, 2015 in Hollywood, California.Mike Windle / Getty Images for SeriousFun Children's Network

The late actor created NOF in 2005 to carry on his philanthropic legacy by using profits from Newman's Own to fund such charities as SeriousFun, Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and others. According to tax filings, in 2020, NOF reported a revenue of $24,628,713 and donated $15,659,038 to charity after other expenses.

According to the suit, a 2005 document Newman shared with his advisors and daughters detailed that Newman’s Own, the food company, would pay royalties to its parent company NOF for the use of his likeness, name, publicity and intellectual property rights. They allege that according to the trust, the foundation is required to fund each daughter’s foundation with $400,000 a year for them to donate to charities of their choice. The Newman daughters claim that since their father’s death in 2008, this arrangement has been “ignored by those in charge of the NOF at the expense of needy charities.”

The lawsuit claims that co-trustees Robert Forrester, who was Newman’s former advisor and eventually became CEO of Newman’s Own and president of NOF, and Newman’s longtime business manager Brian Murphy, coerced the actor into appointing them onto the board in his will at a time where his mental capacity was declining during the last months of his life. They cite a Feb. 27, 2008 letter written by Newman that they said proves he was “without his mental faculties for at least several weeks.”

The board of NOF removed Forrester from his position as CEO in 2019 due to misconduct allegations which included claims of harassment and creating an unhealthy work environment. Forrester has not commented on these allegations and did not respond to TODAY Food's request for comment.

“Rather than advise Mr. Newman’s daughters of their right to, and their father’s unequivocal direction that they should, appoint a co-trustee to act with Forrester and Murphy, Forrester and Murphy instead unilaterally seized control of Mr. Newman’s affairs, as to NOF and as to his estate planning decisions,” reads the complaint.

The suit also claims that the living trust that was executed in April 2008 before Paul Newman passed away stipulated that if Newman were to cease to act as the trustee, his replacement would be co-trustees consisting of Forrester, Murphy, and a third trustee appointed by a majority vote of Mr. Newman’s daughters.

A spokesperson for Nell and Susan Newman said that they seek $1.6 million in damages from the Newman’s Own Foundation and that they will subsequently donate any damages won to charity.

The suit also details that these actions are to align “with Paul Newman’s wishes,” and that a declaratory judgment will “require Newman’s Own Foundation to comply with Paul Newman’s instructions now and in the future.”

“No one should have to feel that the legacy of a departed loved one is being dishonored in the way that Newman’s Own Foundation has disregarded the daughters of Paul Newman, who are the plaintiffs in this case,” said Andy Lee of Foley & Lardner, the attorney for Nell and Susan Newman, in a written statement. "This lawsuit does not seek personal compensation for Mr. Newman’s daughters, but simply seeks to hold NOF accountable to the charities they have shortchanged in recent years and would ensure they receive an increased level of support in the future, in line with Mr. Newman’s wishes.”

When reached for comment on the situation, a spokesperson for NOF issued TODAY the following statement:

“The Board’s philanthropic giving decisions vary each year and the importance of our mission requires us to make the best use of our finite resources. Paul Newman established the Newman’s Own Foundation as a private foundation in 2005. The Foundation is governed by a board of directors that must adhere to regulations applicable to 501(c)(3) organizations. Best practices surrounding philanthropic organizations do not allow for the establishment of perpetual funding allotments for anyone, including Nell and Susan Newman. A meritless lawsuit based on this faulty wish would only divert money away from those who benefit from Paul Newman’s generosity. While we expect to continue to solicit Newman family recommendations for worthy organizations, our funding decisions are made each year and will continue to reflect the clear aim of Paul Newman and our responsibility to the best practices governing private foundations.”