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Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Harold Reynolds Sues ESPN for Wrongful Termination
Back in July, we discussed ESPN's decision to fire baseball analyst Harold Reynolds for allegedly sexually harassing a female employee. His firing in July occurred only four months after the 11-year employee had signed a six-year contract that would have paid him approximately $1 million annually. Be sure to check out the outstanding comments in response to that post. We debated the extent to which the workplace "situation" in which ESPN anchors find themselves--being famous ex-jocks or sports guys around young women in a college campus-style setting--might cause or encourage some of them to do really stupid things. In other words, we wondered whether ESPN has created a workplace environment akin to a male locker room, or whether this is really about the individual wrongdoers and not about their workplace.
Yesterday Reynolds struck back at ESPN, filing a wrongful termination lawsuit. His lawsuit seeks at least $5 million for the lost contract and unspecified amounts for "damages for lost future opportunities." Significantly, his employment contract included a clause that enabled ESPN to void the deal if Reynolds engaged in behavior that "would constitute an act of moral turpitude," but according to Reynolds, ESPN has never given him a "specific reason" for his firing.
Wrongful termination claims provide a wide-range of legal theories for discharged employees to recover. For instance, a successful wrongful termination can arise if the termination was the result of discrimination (race/gender/age/handicap/marital status etc.); violation of a statute; violation of an implied or oral contract; preventing an employee from receiving a benefit that is about to accrue; or a violation of public policy. If they have an employment contract--like Reynolds--they can also sue for breach of contract. In certain instances, although not apparently in Reynolds' instance, wrongfully discharged employees can also recover under tort law, including claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to the media coverage of Reynolds' complaint, he will argue that his contract's moral turpitude class was overly-ambiguous and that ESPN fired him in a more rapid and less deliberative way than they have fired, or would have fired, other employees for similar allegations. Along those lines, Reynolds will contend that ESPN failed to properly investigate the allegations leading to his discharge, and that its workplace environment contributed to, and perhaps even rewarded, sexist behavior.
Should this case go to trial, it will be interesting to see what details emerge about the ESPN workplace. Reynolds v. ESPN might unintentionally update Michael Freeman's ESPN: The Uncensored History (2001).
Update: Will Li alerts me that The Smoking Gun has just posted Reynolds' complaint, which was drafted by Reynolds' attorney, Joseph Garrison of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Chimes & Richardson, P.C. in New Haven, Connecticut. As usual, Will also has some great comments and thoughts:
A couple of interesting things: