An NBPA-certified player-agent agent who represents NBA and college basketball players recently emerged from an employment dispute with an $85,000 jury award for his emotional distress. The initial dispute arose when he left long-time employer Priority Sports and Entertainment for an exciting opportunity at rival company Creative Artists Agency.
When he left for a competing agency, the agent filed a petition with the federal courts seeking to have a two-year non-compete clause in his employment contract declared void under California law. Priority Sports countersued, claiming that the non-compete clause was perfectly legal in Illinois, and that the employment contract had another important clause: one that required all disputes to be resolved in the courts of Cook County, Illinois.
As it turns out, the question about the validity of the non-compete clause was never resolved in court because Priority Sports dropped its claim. What ultimately did go to court was a clash over the agent's privacy rights as an employee.
There is no dispute that the in-house lawyer for Priority Sports directed another employee to access the agent's personal email account without his permission. He read a number of the agent's emails -- including one that contained his new employment contract with the rival agency.
Priority Sports' President of Athlete Representation apparently thought that since the agent had occasionally accessed his personal email on a company computer, the contents of all his personal emails were no longer legally considered private. That is not true -- when private emails are viewed on work computers, they may be legally monitored by companies, but any other emails remain completely private.
The question of Priority Sports' culpability never had to go to a jury. There was no dispute that the company had violated the agent's privacy -- and the California Computer Data Access & Fraud Act. The only question before the jury was how much the agent had been harmed by Priority Sports' wrongful behavior.
The jury awarded the agent $80,000 for emotional distress caused by the incident and an additional $5,000 for future emotional distress.
This is an important victory for employees and a reminder for business owners to make sure they fully understand the law surrounding employees' rights.
Source: Opposing Views, "Basketball Agent Aaron Mintz Gets $85K for Emotional Distress," Nov. 19, 2012