Jeremy Lin Saga: Possible Wrongful Termination Suit Could Haunt ESPN

Bleacher ReportContributor IFebruary 23, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden on February 22, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Let me premise this story by saying that I am in no way defending the former editor for ESPN who was fired after his highly controversial headline that caused an enormous amount of public disgust. While I firmly believe the editor's choice of words in describing Jeremy Lin's play lacked any kind of sensitivity, I am not going to dissect whether this editor should have been fired. The fact is, he was fired.  

But this wasn't just your average firing. ESPN's decision to fire their editor was covered by every major media outlet across the globe. This was easily the most highly publicized firing of a headline editor ever. And since it's undisputed that America is a litigious society, a possible lawsuit against the Worldwide Leader is not out of the question.

I know what you're thinking: This guy's highly objectionable headline was borderline racist. The fact that it was actually published is an atrocity. How in the world could this guy win a lawsuit against his employer alleging wrongful termination? After all, it was his actions that caused a public uproar and eventually led to his firing.

Well, for starters, if a wrongful termination suit is filed here, it will not be a strong one. To win a wrongful termination suit, an employee needs to prove that their firing was in violation of their legal rights. In the absence of some kind of discrimination, or breach of contract, the employee will not have a valid suit.

But sometimes the strength of a lawsuit is irrelevant. And while many states have enacted ethical rules that punish attorneys who bring a frivolous lawsuit, the reality is that many lawsuits are filed to attract negative publicity in the hopes of a quick settlement.

Let's examine this current situation. Jeremy Lin's emergence as an NBA superstar has taken the globe by storm. His recent dominance at the point guard position has energized a star-studded New York Knick team that has all of a sudden become a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. And best of all, Lin has been gracious, humble and courteous despite the relentless media circus surrounding him.

Now let's look at how the mainstream media handled the controversial headline and the eventual decision by ESPN to fire the editor that wrote it. This story was everywhere. The Internet, television and even newspapers were breaking this story down.

ESPN profusely apologized for the actions of their former headline editor, as well as one of their broadcasters, whose poor choice of words cost him a 30-day suspension. There is no doubt that they were embarrassed and I'm sure management was less than thrilled with the bad publicity.

And this is precisely where the filing of a lawsuit, whether it's valid or not, could revive an ugly situation that ESPN worked feverishly to get rid of. Their reputation was dragged through the mud for days. They certainly do not want to revisit this.

The filing of a lawsuit is public record. If the NY Daily News or the NY Post got wind of a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination against ESPN, all stemming from the controversial Lin headline, it would almost certainly make the front page.

This would leave ESPN with two choices: They could publicly dismiss any allegations of wrongful termination and vigorously defend their decision, but would have to endure weeks, possibly even months, of bad publicity—or they could quash a lawsuit with a swift settlement.

The bottom line is, it may not matter whether this headline editor was rightfully or wrongfully terminated. The simple filing of a suit could do further damage to ESPN's reputation. Is ESPN willing to face the public wrath all over again? Or would they rather pay an amount of money that pales in comparison to the billions of dollars they rake in every year?

The great irony here is that Lin really has nothing to do with this story. He certainly has nothing to do with a potential wrongful termination suit against ESPN. All he's done is amaze us with his dazzling play. And while Lin's rise to stardom has been incredibly fun to watch, the global media's obsession with him could have an impact on a damaging lawsuit against ESPN.