Suspension of ESPN Reporter Raises Issue Of Punishment For Employees For Conduct Outside Of Work

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 10.12.34 AMWe have previously discussed the issue of when it is appropriate to punishment people for conduct outside of the work place. We have followed cases where people have been fired after boorish or insulting conduct once their names and employers are made known. (here and YouTube videos and drunken scenes). Recently I spoke at Utah Valley University about the private regulation of speech, particularly in businesses curtailing not just workplace speech but speech outside of the workplace. The latest such scandal involves ESPN reporter Britt McHenry who was given a suspension after a video was posted on YouTube showing her raving at a towing company employee about her wait and lack of skills. People are now demanding that she be fired.

The suspension of McHenry is only for a week. People are demanding more. The video itself is pretty awful as McHenry chastises a female off-camera employee of Advanced Towing in Arlington, Va., after her car was towed. McHenry taunts the employee “That’s why I have a degree and you don’t. I wouldn’t work in a scumbag place like this.” Many have objected that she should not be working at all particularly after she added “Lose some weight, baby girl” as well as making fun of her teeth in the video below. Notably, the woman calmly warns McHenry that she is being filmed.

McHenry later apologized: “In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things. As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake.”

Business are allowed to terminate at-will employees for conduct that is embarrassing to their businesses, even when the conduct occurs outside of work. This is particularly the case for ESPN hosts and reporters who constitute the face of their corporation in a ratings driven market. Some such terminations can raise free speech questions or interference with political activities.

Then there is the question of the extent of the punishment. I recently read of the status of another person involved in a notorious YouTube video. As previously discussed the outburst of the former CFO, Adam Smith, directed at a Chick-Fil-A employee. Smith, 37, was universally condemned for his treatment and then fired as CFO of a medical device manufacturer in Arizona. He was protesting against Chick-Fil-A for the fast-food chain’s anti-gay stance by going through and just ordering water and berating a minimum wage worker. He is shown raving “Chick-Fil-A is a hateful corporation. I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here. I don’t understand it. This is a horrible corporation with horrible values. You deserve better.”

It was disgraceful. Like the ESPN reporter, there was not just the unfairness and rudeness but the scene of a successful person berating a low-income worker. Moreover, he is the one who posted the video that brought disaster to his doorstep. So, he not only failed to see the gross conduct that he displayed but proudly posted it for others to see. However, Smith is now on food stamps and is treated as positively radioactive by potential employers. n with horrible values. You deserve better.”

Smith’s business received a torrent of calls and even bomb threats. He was quickly fired. After losing his job, Smith also lost his home and was forced to live with his wife Amy and their four children in an RV. They have had to sell their possessions and no one wants to interview let alone hire him. You can read about his status on ABCNEWS.

It is really the kids that I feel sorry for in this situation and the question is whether it is time to forgive someone for a stupid, self-destructive act. The story illustrates how social media and stories will continue to follow people — creating a type of new social media pariah who is left unemployable and shunned.

As for McHenry, the damage done to her public persona could be lethal to her career for a different reason. She is a public figure who (as she noted to her victim) cultivates how she looks and is perceived. Unlike Smith, she also expressly raised her employment in the rant. She is now not viewed as a particularly attractive attention for a media corporation.

21 thoughts on “Suspension of ESPN Reporter Raises Issue Of Punishment For Employees For Conduct Outside Of Work”

  1. The person she was trashing didn’t tow her car. The person she was trashing is stuck in her job to deal with the frustration of having to bail out one’s horse. The way she expressed herself is grounds for firing. It is one thing to vent a little but another to put someone down like that.

    Years ago, 1980, I was in New York to visit a friend in the World Trade Center. I parked under an abandoned elevated highway/rail system, ran in, up to the 75th floor, made a date for lunch, ran down, and saw the tow truck towing the rented car up the street. I missed him by five minutes. I walked most of the 40 blocks to the garage and took a cab when I had calmed down. The driver, the attendant, and the cashier who took my $60.00 had nothing to do with it. I had parked illegally, taken a chance, and got caught. This ‘anchor person’ was way out of line for attacking the cashier, even if the car had been towed illegally.

  2. The “free speech” clause of the constitution protects citizens against GOVERNMENT restrictions on freedom of speech. Here, the issue is between the employee and a private company. As others have noted, if the ESPN employee signed a contract wherein she agreed to not engage in actions on or off duty that would bring discredit on the network, then the corporation has a right to invoke that clause and take appropriate action. As far as Mr. Smith, he should just change his name. Employers typically Google job applicants and once you appear on the Internet in an unfavorable light, your employment prospects become quite dim. It does seem to be excessive punishment, as one stupid outburst or foolish action can ruin your employability for the rest of your life, but that’s reality. So move on….either change your name or start your own business.

  3. She is paying the price of celebrity status, and it’s justified. Now if we could get rid of Kanye West and his wife–yuck!

  4. Paul H.

    I used myself as an example of misconduct off the clock. I didn’t actually do this. Would it be better for you if I said John Doe instead of me?

    The point of the article is about misconduct off the clock. Does her misconduct off the clock warrants a suspension by her employer? What is considered misconduct off the clock from an employer stand point? Is there something else going on and/or the employer, ESPN, is using this as a form of retaliation?

    1. Didn’t think you or anyone was that stupid. My point was, some people are never off the clock if they signed a behavior clause or if is written in their contract.

  5. I’m surprised at these responses. She’s no criminal. Employers have the power to terminate in such situations, although workers can have some free speech protection put in their contracts. But today, when there are no “private” moments any more, we’re only going to see more of this. If some mediation were part of her contract, she could apologize and put this behind her. Unlike past periods in our culture, the media can inflict its own “punishment” without limits.

  6. There is also an article and news report that the towing company has a reputation for illegally towing.

    Anyway, can you imagine how many people would lose their jobs for misbehavior outside the workplace?! Everyone has done something that if our employer found out, then should we be fired? For example, Should I be fired for having more than a few drinks at happy hour, and then, instead of going home to the wife, I went home with a female coworker for a few hours? Does an employer have a right monitor my behavior off the clock?

    1. RWL – If a person signs a document that gives them that right the answer is yes. Obviously you didn’t but I would wager she signed some document that her behavior would not embarrass the Network.

  7. Clearly she has regressed from the “skill set” she should have been exposed to back in kindergarten, before obtaining her degree. This also does not encourage parents sacrificing in this economy to send their children to college for a degree.

    “Ignorance and power and pride are a deadly mixture, you know.” ― Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”

  8. Wow, what a sweetheart. Unguarded remarks of an arrogant stupid woman with air in her head.

  9. Hey laudyms,

    A few unguarded remarks? Apparently you did not listen to the entire video of this arrogant, supercilious reporter.

  10. While so many Corp honchos and Banksters go blithely on their way while gutting the futures of ordinary people and preying on the poor, these over-kill responses to a few unguarded remarks by a couple functionaries do show the depth of feeling in the ‘masses.’

    While it may be a modern form of mob action, I suspect it also shows us a preview of coming attractions: a la Bastille Day.

  11. Firing might be a bit severe but the one week suspension is a joke. Suspend her for a year without pay or reduce her pay at a non-Public job for a year. When she returns, if she has the nerve to show her face again, ESPN can assess the public’s reaction and act accordingly. If they (ESPN) puts her back on Television in one week they will be the laughing stock of all networks.

  12. Growing up, we watched Walter Cronkite as well as Lloyd Robertson and other CBC and American news casters, reporters, anchors, or whatever they are called these days. The one thing that came across and it must have been intentional was that these people were, ‘good’ people. They were not on one side or the other, were honest, and respectful as was almost always shown when they interviewed people.

    As time went by the ‘NEWS’ has turned into a circus. This one should either be fired or traded to a ‘Jerry Springer’ type show. She looks like she could go toe to toe, fist to fist, or whatever other body part to whatever other body part, with any of the cousins caught having babied with other cousins when married to other cousins while taking care of the babies of other cousins.

    Too harsh?

  13. Given all the givens, she deserves to be fired. She brought disrepute on herself and her employer. Had she acted just for herself I could see just the suspension, maybe not even that.

    When I first went to college they warned us that if the colleges name stayed out of the paper they could care but once they get in the paper all hell would rain down on us. Same here.

  14. She’s a public figure that represents the network on television. It isn’t surprising that she is suspended and might be fired now that her horrible personality is highly public as well.

  15. Pizza delivery jobs are everywhere so Adam Smith doesn’t really have an excuse for not working.

    McHenry has the luxury of Playboy, porn or celebrity boxing.

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