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Can the Dolphins be held liable for creating a hostile work environment?

Can the Dolphins be held liable for creating a hostile work environment?

Recently in the news, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team because he felt he was being mistreated by his teammates, specifically Richie Incognito.  Incognito has been subsequently suspended indefinitely from the team.

The NFL Players Association is calling for a fair investigation of the situation and wants to make sure that the team is not providing a hostile, unsafe and harassment filled work environment for its players.

Although the full story is not out and I will withhold judgment until more facts are out, it does create some question for me as an insurance professional.

1.    Did the coaches know that this was going on?
2.    Did the Dolphins front office know this was going on?
3.    If they did know, did they do anything to alleviate the situation?

Anyone who follows sports knows that the rookies are ridiculed a bit to gain their “right to passage” in becoming a member of the NFL.  But how far is too far?

We’ve heard the stories of the rookie treatment.  Here are some of the things that I have heard of:

  • Carrying the pads of the veterans off of the practice field (Remember the criticism Des Bryant took when he refused to do this with the Cowboys?)
  • Getting stuck with excessive dinner bills for team dinners (I have heard as much as $50,000)
  • Personal ridicules to “toughen up” a player
  • And the old classic, being taped to the goal post and ridiculed in front of the team and media.

So the question I have is this.  If the teams know this is going on and do nothing about it, are they responsible for creating a hostile work environment should a player take exception to these practices, like what is happening now with Martin?  The answer is yet to be determined.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, I can see a lawsuit with Martin accusing the Dolphins of fostering a hostile work environment.  The mere accusation is probably going to cost the Dolphins millions of dollars in defense costs alone. And then there may be a sizable financial judgment that they may also be responsible for.  But even if they are found to have done nothing wrong, the defense cost bills still need to be paid.

So who is going to pay for this defense and judgment?  Will their general liability insurance cover this?  the answer is no.  The Dolphins, like any other business owner with employees, should have some type of Employment Related Practices Liability (EPLI) policy.  This is the insurance policy that will provide the coverage to defend this type of accusation.  Without it, the Dolphins would have to pay for it all out of their pocket.

An NFL team like the Dolphins probably could afford to pay these defense costs and still remain in business.  But most small to mid-sized business cannot.  I have seen an accusation of wrongdoing run a company out of business.  Defense cost for a small business accused of sexual harassment, can be well over $100,000.

For a relatively small cost, you can provide a layer of protection for your business and avoid being crippled by an accusation of wrongdoing.  Because remember, you only have to be accused of doing something wrong to trigger defense cost, even if you are found not liable.

The Dolphins case will unfold over the next several months and I am sure that more of the story will be released, showing both sides of the story.  But the Dolphins could find themselves in the middle of a bad situation that could expose them to litigation, as could your business.

So making sure you have the right insurance protection is critical and that is what we are here to do for you.

Huff Insurance is a full service Independent Insurance Agent We have been dedicated to Protecting Lifestyles™ since 1960. We offer a full array of Personal Insurance, Commercial Insurance and Life Insurance & Health Insurance products. Call us at 410-647-111

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