Fantasy football, that is.
Yep, the NFL season starts tonight and with that, a new season of people playing in fantasy football leagues is upon us.
What is fantasy football? Fantasy Football, for those unfamiliar with it, is a game in which participants (called “owners”) are arranged into a competitive league, earning “fantasy points” by using the statistics of real football players.
Last year, I discussed how an employer might have some policies in place to cover events like this (and March Madness). I noted then, that employers should continue to remind employees (particularly if it becomes an issue) that such activities cannot interfere with work or use company resources.
But one of the things I left unanswered is whether such leagues have ever crossed paths with an employment lawsuit. It’s impossible to keep track of all the lawsuits that may have gotten filed, but there are a few reported cases that have discussed it.
In Mandel v. UBS/Paine Webber, there were allegations of religious discrimination and harassment. In that case, one of the “Jewish” comments “related to the office fantasy football league when [the employee] allegedly said, “This is the gentiles against the Jews and the plaque should never hang in anybody’s office that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.” In that case, the court said that such a remark even if accepted as true, does “not rise to the level of the severe and pervasive conduct required to establish a cause of action for hostile work environment.”
In Sturm-Sandstrum v. County of Cook, a female employee alleged that she was discriminated against. She alleged “during her employment as a deputy, she was excluded from many social activities that took place both during and after work. For example, she was excluded from Fantasy Football leagues and other social events, like campfires, and her co-workers would talk about these activities around her, even though she wasn’t invited to participate.”
The court there declined to grant the employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the allegations easily created geniune issues of fact for a trial.
What these allegations both have in common is that the league was trying to be used in a larger context. Suffice to say that inevitably, there may be instances where the league might be part of a larger context of harassment.
So, is this something that you, as an employer, should know and understand? Sure. Something to worry about? Only if it starts to interfere with work.
Otherwise, use the limited resources you have to focus on bigger-ticket items, like wage & hour law compliance and compliance with the plethora of state laws that have been passed in recent years.