Friday, April 5, 2013

Blame the Lawyers?

Tim Pernetti, the athletic director at Rutgers, has resigned for failing to fire Mike Rice, the school's basketball coach, after seeing a video of him brutalizing and belittling the team's players during practice. 

Any sane person with authority over "Coach" Rice would have fired him on the spot, and Pernetti has deservedly lost his job for his insane failure to do so. But he's going down swinging, and his target is lawyers:
As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice's behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.
I will assume for a moment that this is true, because I have heard stories of similar bureaucratic nonsense—particularly in public universities and other public employment settings. Mike Rice had an employment contract. He could not be fired at will; Rutgers needed good cause to fire him. So lawyers and "human resources professionals" were going to have to review any decision to terminate, and in my experience they follow a rote, unthinking "process." According to Pernetti, they followed that process and prevented him from firing Rice because it was a "first offense" (as he said when the video first became public) and therefore "university policy would not justify dismissal."

I don't know anything about Rutgers's "university policy," but obviously that initial interpretation of the policy was wrong because Mike Rice has now been fired (for the same behavior) and no one at the university is complaining anymore that the conduct doesn't justify dismissal. (I guess they're all too busy running for cover to complain.) So maybe Pernetti has a legitimate beef against those lawyers and HR "professionals." In a remotely just world, they'd all be next in line with their resignation letters.

What's really going on here is that people are way too afraid of legal disputes, even ones that are objectively frivolous. If Mike Rice had been fired back in December, he would have gone to a lawyer, and the lawyer would have sued Rutgers alleging a breach of contract and an unlawful termination. In all likelihood, that lawsuit would have been a loser—objectively frivolous, in my opinion—but you just never know. Even sure-winner lawsuits are expensive, time-consuming, and embarrassing. So we avoid them at all costs.

But, oh the costs! How many kids took a fastball to the face from Mike Rice so that Rutgers could avoid a frivolous lawsuit? How many kids had to stand there while Rice spewed spit and shouted "you are a fucking faggot!" at them so that Rutgers could avoid a lawsuit?

Too many, obviously. This is what happens when cowards and idiots conspire.

In the end, this whole affair goes in as entry number 3,254 on my list of "Reasons I'm Glad I Don't Live in New Jersey."


  1. While I tend to doubt this account, it does raise the question of why no one thought any of the players might get fed up and sue.

  2. Good point.

    By the way, I read that the general counsel of the university has also resigned, lending some credence to Pernetti's account.


Comments on posts older than 30 days are moderated because almost all of those comments are spam.