Just last week, I wrote about the Miami Dolphins’ swift and effective response to offensive tweets posted by a player in response to the NFL’s draft of its first openly gay player, Michael Sam. Within a week, news of offensive and sexist e-mails written by Richard Scudamore, the Chief Executive of the Premier League, were leaked and the reaction of the League and the FA (Football Association) stands in stark contrast to that of the Miami Dolphins.
In case you didn’t see the reports, e-mails exchanged between Mr. Scudamore and a lawyer colleague included derogatory comments about women, including one woman with whom Mr. Scudamore worked. The e-mails were leaked by Mr. Scudamore’s personal assistant (PA) who said that she felt she had a duty to release them.
Here’s what happened next: the Premier League conducted an investigation, which is a good start, except that the investigation was apparently conducted by the Premier League’s only other board member, the Chairman. He did say that he utilized the services of an external law firm to assist in reviewing all of Mr. Scudamore’s e-mail correspondence and that there was “no evidence of wider discriminatory attitudes or inappropriate language or a general attitude of disrespect to women”.
Based on the investigation, the Premier League issued a statement advising that no further disciplinary action was required or justified in the circumstances. This decision seems troubling when one considers various aspects of the “investigation.” First, reports are that Mr. the Chairman and investigator in this case, Peter McCormick, is a close friend of Mr. Scudamore and that they have gone on shooting trips together. An independent investigation, this was not. Second, the investigation appears to have included discussions with other women in the League, including the woman who was supposedly referenced in some of the offensive e-mails. These women claimed to not have been offended by Mr. Scudamore’s behaviour, which seems a predictable response when the question is posed by the Chairman and friend of the alleged offender. How comfortable would any woman have been sharing true feelings of disrespect to someone holding this position?
It also appears to have been overlooked that, regardless of whether some women were not offended by these remarks, clearly the PA who leaked the e-mails was. There is a dispute as to whether she was required to view these e-mails in the course of her employment. The League claims that she searched them out, unauthorized, from a personal e-mail account, while the PA says that the e-mails were sent to her automatically so that she could organize Mr. Scudamore’s calendar. It does seem clear that the PA had access to these e-mails in the course of her duties, and the e-mails were sent from the Premier League account. Employees have a right not be subjected to offensive conduct or comment in the course of their employment, regardless of whether they were the subject or target of the offensive comments or conduct.
Mr. Scudamore has admitted to sending the e-mails and he did so using the employer’s e-mail system. Under the circumstances, it seems extraordinary that the League employer in this case has not found his behaviour worthy of some censure. What kind of message could the League possibly be hoping to send when a matter involving inappropriate comments made by one of the two most senior people in the organization is responded to by the other most senior person in this manner? It would seem that the Premier League could take a lesson from the Miami Dolphins on this one.