Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mitch Williams Awarded $1.5M after MLB Network Firing Based on False Media Report

Mitch Williams, fired by MLB Network after Deadspin published an allegedly false report about an umpire ejection and argument during his son's Little League game, won a $1.5 million verdict against MLB Network Inc. in New Jersey state court last month, based on the acceptance of Williams' allegation that he was wrongfully terminated in the wake of Deadspin's false report concerning the aforementioned umpire incident.

Mitch Williams won his suit against MLBN.
Photo: CSN - Philly.
The findings state that in 2014, MLB Network fired former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher-turned-TV analyst Williams for purportedly violating the "morals clause" in his contract after a May 11, 2014 article published on Deadspin claimed that, during a dispute with an umpire at his son's Little League game, Williams called the umpire a "motherf*er" in front of the children and had to be "physically separated from the umpire by other coaches."

Williams, meanwhile, claimed he had not violated the "morals clause" of his contract and instead was fired for refusing to sign an illegal amendment to the contract, concocted by MLBN after the purported fake news reports were published.

On May 16, 2014, Deadspin published another story with the headline "Witnesses: Mitch Williams Called Child 'A Pussy,' Ordered a Beanball."

As a result, Williams sued MLB Network, and he also sued then-Deadspin owner, Gawker Media.

The two aforementioned articles were since removed from Deadspin's website, along with five others from the former Gawker Media network, which is now owned by Univision. Upon acquiring Gawker's properties, Univision decided that these posts—all seven of which were the subject of active litigation against Gawker—posed a liability for Univision. Not surprisingly, Deadspin opposed the deletions.

The suit held that MLB Network suspended Williams in response to the Deadspin articles, which were factually inaccurate and/or defamatory,. Deadspin later published a third article about the suspension, at which time Williams obtained statements from parents and players on the opposing Little League team attesting to Williams' assertion that he hadn't said anything offensive during the game.

Circulated photo of Williams' LL ejection.
According to Williams' complaint, "the umpire initiated the confrontation and ejected plaintiff from the game; ultimately, tournament officials permitted plaintiff to coach the remaining games and banned the umpire." Williams claimed the umpire "harangued" him for arguing balls and strikes.

According to a series of tweets from Williams after the incident, "I was thrown out for laughing at a call.then the [sic] threatened to fight me.said pick a time and place."

Nonetheless, the findings state, MLB Network allegedly thereafter presented Williams with an amendment to his contract in which MLBN requested Williams agree to refrain from attending "any amateur sports events for one year," including his children's games, attend therapy, and get approval before posting photos to Facebook. According to the claim, when Williams refused to sign the contract's amendment, MLB Network purportedly terminated his employment, claiming breach of contract.

Williams maintained he was fired for refusing to sign an illegal amendment to his contract, and not for violating a pre-existing "morals clause."

A state judge in June 2016 dismissed Williams' claims against Gawker that had been filed based on the alleged fake news posted to Deadspin, prompting Gawker founder Nick Denton to issue a memo: "Today’s news in the Mitch Williams case shows that, even if the wheels of justice turn slowly and expensively, they do turn...Legal protection for true stories remains strong. We just have to persevere."

Yet, although Gawker/Deadspin celebrated, their victory was short-lived.

Nary a month before Williams sought a review on the state judge's ruling to dismiss in July 2016, Gawker Media LLC filed for bankruptcy protection due to an unrelated legal matter involving a lawsuit filed by wrestler Hulk Hogan that resulted in a jury-imposed $115 million-worth of compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages awarded to Hogan for Gawker's alleged invasion of his privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

By filing for bankruptcy, Gawker enjoyed a Chapter 11-guaranteed protection of an automatic stay from litigation; thus, Williams' case against Gawker and Deadspin remained unresolved and, essentially, frozen in time.

After the verdict in Mitchel Williams v. The MLB Network Inc. et al (Case number L-3675-14 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, County of Camden) was issued, Williams wrote on Twitter, "To all of the people that have wondered where I have been for 3 years.today that answer was provided by a court of law #justice."

NOTE: Expect an upcoming "Gil's Call" article to address both the Hernandez and Williams cases.


Post a Comment