Fired? Resigned? Media Matchmaker Michael Kassan Out At UTA’s MediaLink

 MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan at SXSW in 2022.
MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan at SXSW in 2022.

Michael Kassan is out as CEO of MediaLink, the consultancy he founded that is now owned by UTA, amid a flurry of charges and counterclaims, including whether Kassan resigned or was fired.

Kassan made MediaLink into an important deal-maker by bringing together media companies, marketers and tech companies.

In legal papers filed with an arbitrator, Kassan said he resigned March 6 because his contract was breached. He claims UTA failed to put him in charge of UTA business with marketers and tried to cut the $950,000 in “special expenses” he was contractually alloted to attract new business.

Kassan also said he waived a $10 million severance payment in order to compete with MediaLink.

UTA countered by saying it fired Kassan a day later.

“Michael Kassan was terminated for cause by UTA on March 7, 2024, following a thorough and exhaustive third-party investigation into misappropriation of company funds,“ a UTA spokesperson said. “We filed a lawsuit against him and look forward to presenting the facts in court.”

Kassan is seeking at least $25 million in monetary damages unspecified other damage and court costs in the arbitration document, which names UTA and agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer, co-head of marketing David Anderson and co-head of UTA NYC Julian Jacobs as defendants.

“Michael Kassan agreed to sell MediaLink, the company he founded, to UTA because he was led to believe it would be a great partnership for both companies,“ Kassan’s lawyer, Sanford Michelman of Michelman and Robinson, said in a statement. “However, it became clear that Jeremy Zimmer had a secret plan to not honor the contract, and when Michael confronted him, Zimmer refused to honor the deal. As one would expect, when Zimmer broke promises and began to impede the success of MediaLink, Michael was left with no other option other than to resign and file this lawsuit against Zimmer and UTA for breach of contract.”

UTA contested Kassan's charges.

“Michael Kassan was terminated by UTA on March 7 and made aware well before that that UTA had grounds to fire him,“ Bryan Freedman, counsel to UTA, said in a statement. “His claim against UTA has no merit and is an attempt to divert attention from the misappropriation of company funds that led to his termination.”

In a lawsuit filed March 12 in California Superior Court in Los Angeles County, UTA accuses Kassan of constructive fraud, break of partners services agreement, breach of fiduciary duty and break of duty of loyalty.

UTA seeks to hold Kassan accountable and recover “damages and losses resulting from his shameless acts,” according to the suit. “Given the malicious, oppressive, and fraudulent nature of Kassan’s scheme, Plaintiffs are also entitled to a substantial award of punitive damages.”

The suit opens by saying that in “utter disregard for his fiduciary obligations as a partner of UTA, media and advertising executive Michael Kassan has run rampant with his business expense account –wasting millions of UTA’s dollars on his lavish personal lifestyle.”

When UTA acquired MediaLink in 2021,  “Kassan presented himself as a

trustworthy businessman,” the suit says. “Almost immediately, Kassan abused his title and authority by circumventing or

failing to maintain standard control processes to ensure that company funds were used to pay for his extravagant personal expenses, without question, and with the goal of not leaving any trace behind.”

The suit alleges that Kassan not only required a personal driver but used UTA’s money to pay for his driver’s apartment.

Kassan used a company credit card for his personal expenses and allowed his wife to have a company credit card, even though she doesn't work for the company. She used the car to shop for luxury goods, the suit claims.

Kassan also used UA money for private flights for him and his family on personal trips, according to the suit, and used company money to pay for his personal housekeeper.

“In 2023, Kassan went so far as to use nearly $500,000 in company funds to pay off his personal credit card debt, despite multiple warnings from MediaLink’s top finance executive,” the suit claims. “In 2022, Kassan had over $700,000 in company funds wired to his personal S-Corporation. In short, Kassan erased any line between his personal and business expenses.”

The suit also alleges that Kassan fostered a “toxic culture at MediaLink, in which employees were beholden to him personally, rather than to MediaLink or UTA, and were discouraged fromdisclosing certain matters to UTA.”

Kassan’s arbitration filing paints a different picture.

According to Kassan it is UTA and its executives  that broke promises and breached Kassan’s contract.

Kassan charges that rather than have Kassan run UTA’s marketing business, “respondents secretly concocted a scheme” that including not having UTA Marketing report to Kassan as promised, not integrate UTA Marketing with MediaLink, pressure Kassan to increase pricing for MediaLink customers, cut investment in growing MediaLink and reduce MediaLink’s marketing spending.

“After two long years of Kassan battling Zimmer’s repeated broken promises, and UTA and MediaLink’s long line of employees complaining about Zimmer, Kassan had enough and submitted his resignation,” Kassan’s filing says.

Zimmer tried to reject Kassan’s resignation and than terminated Kassan for “cause.”

Kassan’s filing notes that UTA partners would ask for rides on the private planes UTA complained about in its suit and that MediaLink had long made contributions to charitable organizations such as Big Brothers Brothers Big Sisters of America, Red Nose Day and Comic Relief using company money.

The filing also notes that MediaLink increased its revenue and profit while Kassan worked for UTA

“What Zimmer has never accepted is that Kassan’s business-development style requires a significant budget and special expenses in exchange for creating a platform for the MediaLink community to generate value,” the filing says.

Kassan’s salary after UTA acquired MediaLink was $2 million a year. He also received a lump sum payment of $12.5 million with the deal closed and could receive another $1.5 million per year in “earn outs” based on MediaLink reaching financial targets, according to the filing.  He could also receive bonuses at the discretion of UTA.