Employment Contracts Behaving Badly: ‘We’re Not Harvey Weinstein!’

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Oct 13, 2017

Unless media is talking about Russians, natural disasters, or Donald Trump, gender issues seem to be at the forefront of every news story these days. Uber is in trouble for allegedly treating women badly. Google is in trouble for allegedly paying women unfairly. And even Hollywood is in trouble for, well, you know.

Now you can add sports reporting to the list of gender battlefronts. Barstool Sports, a publisher that likes to push the boundaries of decency and good taste (checkout its Instagram page for a good idea of what I’m talking about), is on the hot seat for wanting employees to sign waivers where they expressly agree to not object to “offensive speech” or “speech and conduct that explictly relates to sex, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, religion, disability, and age.”

Here’s what went down. An aspiring sports reporter named Elika Sadeghi (@steakNstiffarms) took to Twitter to reveal Barstool’s employment contract, which highlights the fact that she might be exposed to “nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity, and references to stereotypes.” She redacts the company name, but the identity is not in question. She declined the two-year employment offer.

From her comments, Sadeghi believed such contractual language would put her in an environment where women would be made to feel that speaking up about sexual harassment was frowned upon. “Whether it’s explicitly stated in contracts or not, too often, people are made to feel like they can’t speak up about the inexcusable,” Sadeghi tweeted. “I haven’t been sexually harassed at work in years. But I remember the paralysis that accompanies it when you don’t think anyone would care.”

Many people on Twitter were supportive. “This kind of thinking is why people don’t expose harassment and the corporate culture that enables it,” said Mina Kimes, currently an ESPN personality and writer.

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, apparently nicknamed “El Presidente,” published a video on Twitter that confirmed Barstool Sports did, in fact, try to hire Sadeghi, and that the company recently just started asking employees to sign contracts containing a particular clause about being OK with at-work degeneration. He compared it to what actors on SNL have to sign before working at the comedy show.

“This girl’s the biggest fraud,” Portnoy added. “She’s trying to make herself part of the story. She said to us she never had the feeling we treated anybody with disrespect. She didn’t think that was Barstool employees. She got mad about a legal clause. A legal clause!” Here’s his video response.

Other gems from the video include the following:

  • “Well, f- you for making us part of this story. We have nothing to do with this. We’re not Harvey Weinstein.”
  • “People always throw arrows and throw stones at us no matter what, we haven’t done shit. Leave us out of it. What is it, Frankie? ‘Keep my name off your lips?’ Hey Elika: keep your name off our lips.” Huh?

In a later tweet, Portnoy said, “I actually offered to take it out, rewrite it for her approval and for future and she said damage was done and chose to bash us instead.”

There are two sides to every coin, I guess. Whose side you come down is largely going to be based on personal preferance. Sexual harassment is obviously a very real problem in our society, and I believe Sadeghi truly does feel the language in Barstool Sports’ employment contract would put her in an unhealthy work environment.

However, I also believe our litigious society requires contracts to be overly conservative, particularly when protecting corporate entities is involved. This would make the contractual language seen in Sadeghi’s tweet necessary. Remember, no crime was actually committed here, so insinuating sexual harassment isn’t particularly productive in this back-and-forth.

I do know this, though. Elika Sadeghi and Dave Portnoy weren’t names I knew before this story. It’s very likely you didn’t either. And in the world of media, that newly found awareness makes them both winners.

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