Once an employee expresses his opinion on a hot-button issue, does the unstated threat of a discrimination lawsuit mean that he lays claim to the job for life?
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe posted mediocre statistics in 2012 despite kicking in a dome, underwent knee surgery after the season, and entered his ninth year in a league that escalates salary in part on seniority. Was he a cap casualty for these reasons or because he expressed support for gay marriage?
“It’s just a matter of when we begin litigation,” attorney Clayton Halunen told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday. “That’s the only question in my mind now. Do we immediately file suit or do we wait and see if we get the confirmation we get from their supposed investigation?”
Chris Kluwe’s lawyer refers to the Vikings’ investigation into special teams coach Mike Priefer, who Kluwe claims is a bigot who pushed him out of his punting position based on his beliefs rather than his performance. “If there’s one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story,” Kluwe wrote in a January Deadspin article, “it’s to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level. (According to the Pioneer Press, he is ‘the only in-house candidate with a chance’ at the head-coaching job.) It’s inexcusable that someone would use his status as a teacher and a role model to proselytize on behalf of his own doctrine of intolerance, and I hope he never gets another opportunity to pass his example along to anyone else.”
Despite firing head coach Leslie Frazier, the Vikings retained Preifer. “It’s unbelievable to us,” Kluwe’s lawyer told the paper of the Vikings retaining Priefer on their staff. “It shows that the Vikings are not sincere about this supposed investigation, that it’s a mere charade, and at the end of the day they’re going to cover up this.”
Though Kluwe’s statistics and salary say otherwise, his lawyer insists the punter lost his job because of his vocal advocacy of gay rights. “We have a sexual-orientation claim that my client stood up for the rights for a group that is a protected class and was retaliated against,” Halunen told the Pioneer Press. “We have a retaliation claim because he raised concerns to management by going to [Leslie Frazier], and soon after his contract was (terminated).”
The lawsuit may face several hurdles. Kluwe acknowledges that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf called a gay wedding he attended “beautiful” and encouraged his advocacy. Does a straight man have standing to sue a gay-rights enthusiast for homophobic discrimination? After the Vikings cut Kluwe, another NFL team, the Oakland Raiders, cut him too. If the Raiders released Klwue based on performance, why is it so outlandish to believe the Vikings released him for similar reasons just a few months earlier?