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Wrongful termination gone wild

“Wild Thing” just finished a wild ride through the court system that started with him losing his job.

Mitchell Williams, best known as “Wild Thing,” was a major league baseball pitcher from 1986 to 1997. The 1989 All-Star’s career included stints with the Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, and California Angels. In 2009, he transitioned from MLB athlete to studio analyst for the MLB Network.

At the end of that contract in 2011, he signed a five-year deal with an option for a sixth. Three years into that agreement, his broadcast career came to a sudden end.

In May of that year, Gawker published a report that Williams cursed out a child while coaching his10-year-old son’s Little League team and ordered one of his child’s teammates to retaliate against an opposing pitcher by throwing a “beanball.” His actions ended up getting “Wild Thing” ejected for allegedly living up to his nickname.

Following the story going viral, MLB Network issued public statements suggesting Williams’ admission to the misconduct that resulted in a 30-day leave of absence. MLB also threatened to terminate his employment unless he signed an amendment to his contract. He would agree not to coach or attend any of his children’s baseball games, attend therapy, and get approval before posting pictures on social media.

Williams refused, losing not only his job with the MLB network, but also MLB.com, Sports Network and Fox Sports.

Williams filed a wrongful termination action against the MLB Network in the Superior Court of New Jersey for Camden County. Following an 11-day trial in June 2017, the jury rejected MLB Network’s claim that Williams violated a “morals clause” in his contract. They found that Williams was wrongfully terminated and the MLB Network breached his contract when it fired him over the Gawker stories.

The jury awarded him $1,565,333 in damages. Gawker Media Group Inc. had long since been dismissed from the case in 2016. The company had filed for bankruptcy after losing another lawsuit from yet another athlete, Hulk Hogan.

Unlike their former co-defendant already taken down by a legal “leg-drop,” the MLB Network will endure, perhaps a little wiser in not basing their employment decisions on third-party reports from a less-than-reliable source.

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