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Morality clause used as reason for firing pitchman

An actor known for his role on the show "L.A. Law," which aired during the 1980s and 90s, is suing a marketing company for non-payment.

The two parties, Virginia Beach Marketing and Corbin Bernsen, entered into a contract that had Bernsen playing a role as a pitchman in a series of commercials. VBM hired Bernsen for the role on a contract that paid Bernsen $1 million over five years.

But Bernsen says he wasn't paid in full -- in fact, he says VBM came up well short according to the terms of the contract. He is asking for $668,000 in back payments; while VBM contends that it is Bernsen who actually owes them money, to the tune of $600,000. VBM says that Bernsen violated the morality clause in his contract.

VBM alleges that Bernsen got into tax trouble and engaged in public arguments and fights, prompting the company to terminate the contract. However, Bernsen says the tax problems were properly resolved and that the arguments hardly constituted a violation of the morality clause -- one argument occurred because Bernsen's associate was being harassed by an intoxicated bar-goer, while the other argument did not rise to the level of improper conduct.

It is important to note that most employment contracts have some form of a morality clause in them. They can govern a wide range of events, incidents and activities that the employer considers immoral or unethical; and if broken, it can lead to the termination or nullification of the contract.

Be sure to review your contract with an experienced attorney to ensure the wording of the clause is appropriate and that you have a full understanding of your employer's expectations. This will also benefit you in case you are put in a situation like Bernsen. You will know if your employer's claims are illegitimate.

Source: Pilot Online, "'L.A. Law' star testifies in contract dispute in Norfolk," Tim McGlone, Nov. 8, 2012

  • To learn more about morality clauses and other legal issues that can arise surrounding your work contract, please visit our Houston employment law page.

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