Was Ray Rice Wrongfully Terminated?

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If you followed the Ray Rice wrongful termination case, you undoubtedly have an opinion on the situation. If not, a review of the details may help you understand the settlement reached.

The Background

In February of 2014, Ray Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back (at the time), was caught hitting his (then) fiancée Janay, in the face on a casino elevator surveillance video. The partial video showed him dragging her and leaving her on the floor unconscious. Overnight she became the poster child for domestic violence.

On June 16th he and Janay met with the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and explained what had happened in February. He was suspended for two games, a consistent punishment for what other players had received in similar circumstances.

That September the entire video was released and went viral. The Ravens reacted by firing Rice, terminating his $35 million contract, while the NFL suspended him indefinitely. In November, an arbitrator overturned that ruling, allowing Rice to become a free agent and potentially play again.

Was Ray Rice Wrongfully Terminated?

Wrongful termination cases can be argued for a variety of reasons but some of the most common are being terminated because of:

  • Whistleblowing
  • Retaliation
  • Hostile work environments, including sexual harassment
  • Unpaid overtime
  • Wage and hour disputes

What makes Ray Rice’s case different is that he had a written employment contract. This means he was not an at-will employee. Contracts can be broken by the employer if the employee violates the terms of the employment contract. Without insight into his exact contract stipulations, it’s impossible to say if he was wrongfully terminated but one can infer that was the case by the ultimate outcome.

Why a Settlement Was Reached

Ray Rice filed a wrongful termination dispute in January and, this month, they reached a settlement of 1.588 million. He was seeking back pay of 3.529 million from the 2014 season. Here are some of the things that may have gone into the settlement decision:

Lack of Precedent

Sadly, the NFL is not a stranger to domestic violence charges. Since 2005, of the players arrested for domestic violence, 12 are still playing. Small suspensions were common with this charge. Rice was treated far more harshly than his peers.

Abuse of Discretion

The former Appeals Court Judge serving as the arbitrator found that Rice didn’t mislead the NFL commissioner in his recounting of the events of that night. It was that claim of misrepresentation that the commissioner used to defend the indefinite suspension. Rice had already served the two game suspension and received an additional punishment when the entire video was released to the public. Two punishments for one crime.

Judge Barbara S. Jones stated “I find that the indefinite suspension was an abuse of discretion and must be vacated…therefore, that the imposition of a second suspension based on the same incident and the same known facts about the incident, was arbitrary…The Commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline.”

She also reprimanded the league’s approach to domestic violence in the past, “That the League did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely.”

If you’re dealing with a situation of wrongful termination you need someone who will dig deeper and fight harder. The employment attorneys at Wenzel Fenton and Cabassa, P.A., can help you understand the intricacies of the law. Contact us today.

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