Just as the National Football League was handing down its harshest sanctions ever over the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-play performance system — so dubbed “Bountygate” — former NFL player and TV commentator Warren Sapp used Twitter to rat out Jeremy Shockey, a tight end who played for the Saints from 2008 to 2010, as the alleged whistleblower. Shockey, who played for the Carolina Panthers last season and is now an unrestricted free agent, struck back on Twitter to vehemently deny the allegations. Other NFL players took to Twitter in response, with some condemning Shockey and others speaking out against Sapp.
Twitter spats between celebrities, particularly famous athletes, isn’t anything new. Most times, it’s simply entertaining fodder for the media. What makes this situation different, though, is that Sapp may have violated federal labor laws with his allegations.
Here’s how: Federal law protects employees against discrimination, retribution or retaliation as a result of their “blowing the whistle” on an employer’s conduct. As an analyst for the NFL Network, Sapp works for the league. If it turns out that Sapp did, indeed, release the identity of the whistleblower, he opens himself and the NFL up for a possible retaliation claim, particularly if Shockey could prove that outing him caused him harm, such as damaging his ability to sign with a new team.
Shockey has continued to deny involvement in causing the investigation and may never pursue a whistleblower claim against the league. Nevertheless, this story gives us another example of how an employee’s use of social media can open the door to legal headaches for an employer.
About the author
Nathan Whatley is a labor and employment attorney with McAfee & Taft. He represents management in all phases of litigation before federal and state courts, regulatory and administrative agencies and in arbitration matters. He also handles litigation matters involving the enforcement of non-competition and confidentiality agreements, breach of employment contracts, handbook and personnel policy violations, wage and hour disputes and other issues arising out of employer/employee relationships. He has litigated in Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, California, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Washington, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Kansas and Missouri.
Nathan also routinely counsels clients in connection with employee discipline, terminations and reductions in force; wage and hour issues; handbooks and policies; drug and alcohol programs; executive compensation, employment and non-competition agreements; and individual and group severance programs and related matters. He also provides training to management and non-management employees in all areas affecting the employer/employee relationship and regularly conducts on-site client training in areas such as sexual harassment, drug and alcohol testing, employee leave and disability, and EEOC compliance and investigation.
Nathan is a frequent speaker and writer on a variety of labor and employment topics. In addition to having served as editor of the newsletter for the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Oklahoma Bar Association, he has authored white papers for the Society for Human Resource Management and articles for the Oklahoma Law Review, Oklahoma Bar Journal and Oklahoma Employment Law Letter. His major writing credits include authoring “Oklahoma Employment Law: Practice and Forms Manual,” published by Data Trace Publishing Company in 2010; co-authoring “Entertainment and Media Law Client Strategies,” published by Aspatore Books in 2007; and serving as a contributing writer to “Age Discrimination In The Workplace: A Primer For Human Resource Professionals,” published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 1999.
Nathan has previously served as leader of McAfee & Taft’s Labor and Employment Group. His experience and expertise have earned him inclusion in Chambers USA Guide to America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, The Best Lawyers in America and Oklahoma Super Lawyers.