Another interesting case has come out of the world of professional sports which is surely to interest breach of contract attorneys, employment lawyers and sports and entertainment professionals in Atlanta and beyond. The case involving the Pittsburg Steelers running back, Rashard Mendenhall, tackles on issues such as free speech, so-called "morality clauses" in contracts and the role that corporate sponsorship plays in shaping the world of professional athletics. If you or your Atlanta business are in need of an Atlanta employment lawyer, Atlanta breach of contract attorney or Atlanta business litigation attorney, The Golden Law Firm, LLC can provide you with legal advice regarding your business needs, including breach of contract and related matters.
In July 2011, Mendenhall sued Hanesbrands, Inc. for terminating his seven-figure endorsement contract to promote Champion Sportswear. Hanesbrands took this action after Mendenhall sent a series of politically charged tweets including one after 9-11 and another after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces troops. In that tweet, Mendenhall chastised those who celebrated bin Laden's death, asking how people can hate a man they have never heard speak. Public outrage over this and other controversial comments by Mendenhall caused Hanesbrands to quickly pull the trigger on Mendenhall's endorsement deal, cited the "morality clause" in his contract. Mendenhall sued. At the initial stages of the case, the United States District Judge in North Carolina ruled that Hanesbrands owed Mendenhall a duty of good faith and fair dealing not to act arbitrarily or unreasonable in exercising its discretion to invoke the morality clause and terminate the contract. So the case proceeded through discovery with an eye toward trial centered largely around this issue of Hanesbrands conduct and its decision-making process.
To that end, Mendenhall's attorney came forward with novel evidence involving a famous actor to show Hanesbrands' conduct toward Mendenhall was arbitrary. Specifically, Mendenhall's legal team argued that Hanesbrands actually hired actor Charlie Sheen, after he had made similar comments and despite a whirlwind of questionable comments and conduct by Sheen. For example, Sheen was quoted as saying in an interview that "it seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75 percent of their targets feels like a conspiracy theory." Thus, Mendenhall sought to show that Hanesbrands treated him in a disparate manner when compared to its conduct toward Sheen.
Apparently, this legal theory paid off. Before the case could get to trial, the parties settled. While the amount of the settlement is confidential, it certain leads one to suspect that at least to some degree, the "Charlie Sheen Comparator Defense" worked.
This case is a good reminder that even in breach of contract or breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing cases, the issue of fair treatment and comparator treatment can come into play. Thus, litigation over conduct toward comparators is no longer left solely for employment discrimination cases.
If you have questions regarding protecting your Company from breach of contract claims, employment law claims, or related matters, contact an Atlanta business litigation attorney, Atlanta employment lawyer, or Atlanta non-compete attorney, at the Golden Law Firm, LLC. Founding member, Peter Golden has seventeen years experience representing parties in business matters. At The Golden Law Firm, LLC we handle Atlanta non-compete matters, breach of contract claims, employment litigation, business litigation and related matters. Contact an Atlanta business litigation attorney today by calling us at 678-710-8244 or through our website at www.golden-firm.com. We are located in the heart of the Vinings neighborhood of Atlanta, one block from I-285 and easily accessible from throughout metro Atlanta.