“Help me, help you……Help me…HELP YOU!!!!!” Who can believe that it has been 20 years since Tom Cruise uttered what is arguably one of the most quoted lines in movie history? The 1996 hit film Jerry MaGuire, was released December 13th, 1996, earning critical acclaim, while grossing nearly $300 million at the box office. The movie (spoiler alert) is about an anxious, stressed, slightly neurotic sports agent, who is obsessed with turning his self-centered career into a “client-focused” one. MaGuire came to realize that his work was supposed to be about helping people, while building better lives for his client athletes. Instead, the glamorous world of sports law had turned into a blood bath, where packs of restless and shameful lawyers desperately fought to make their “star player” the face of every major ad campaign in America.
MaGuire realized that his passion for sports was out the window, and his integrity for his profession had taken a dive with it. Rather than grind it out with the rest of the pack, MaGuire decides to write a “mission statement”, outlining the problems with the industry (his own firm in particular) and the tools needed in order to save the profession. He titled it “The Things We Think And Do Not Say”, and instantly became a hit at the office. MaGuire may have been met with praise from his co-workers for saying what everyone was already thinking; however, he was ultimately fired for being so out spoken.
This fictional story raises a good question to many employees who are unhappy with their jobs. Can an employer really fire someone for having his or her own opinion? Is it “illegal” to be fired for being out-spoken in your place of work? What happened to freedom of speech? What happened the right to protest?
Unfortunately for MaGuire, it is legal for a place of work to fire an employee for speaking out against the company. MaGuire is known as a whistleblower. A whistleblower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public. The information of alleged wrongdoing can be defined in many ways, including: violation of company policy/rules, law, regulation, or threat to public interest/national security, as well as fraud, and corruption. Those who become whistleblowers can choose to bring information or allegations to the surface either internally or externally. Whistleblowing in the public sector organization is more likely to result in federal felony charges and jail-time. A whistleblower who chooses to accuse a private sector organization or agency is more likely to face termination and legal and civil charges. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 was put in place in order to provide protection to whistleblowers, however the act protects federal whistleblowers who work for the government and report agency misconduct.
In addition, several jurisdictions in the United States are considered “right to work” states. Generally, these states do not guarantee an employee the right to work, affording employers certain rights when it comes to terminating their employees. An employer can essentially terminate an employee for any reason, as long as that reason is not discriminatory. A discriminatory action arises if the employee was terminated while being a part of a protected class, and if his termination was a result of such discrimination. The protected classes consist of: race, sex, religion, national origin, color, age, or mental or physical disability. In order to prevail a jury not only has to believe that you were terminated due to discrimination, but that you are owed compensation, but also that you deserve compensation.
All in all, it seems pretty legitimate that McGuire was fired for good cause. Complaining to your friends about how you hate your work is one thing, but publishing a “mission statement” which highlights the negative aspects of your own firm, and giving a copy to everyone in your office is another. MaGuire had the last laugh though, finding his future wife, and making his one and only client, Rod Tidwell, an NFL superstar. I’m not sure I would ever pull a Jerry MaGuire if I were displeased with my employer, but then again, maybe I’d end up finding my future wife as well.
Find Jerry’s full “mission statement” at the link below.
Categories: Employment Law