On Wednesday, NBC announced that they have parted ways with long-time “Today Show” host Matt Lauer due to “inappropriate sexual behavior.” The network claimed the complaint they received was the first against Lauer after over twenty years of being employed at NBC.
But, NBC acted quickly, firing Lauer less than two days after a “detailed complaint” fell on their lap Monday night. That response time is raising questions as to what the legal implications behind the firing may be.
If Lauer is entitled to payment could mainly depend on the actual phrasing of his contract, and whether or not the complaint could qualify him for “termination for cause,” employment law attorney Mike Delikat told Law & Crime.
“If ’cause’ is defined as ‘any’ violation of their code of conduct or policies, in other words, a ‘zero tolerance policy’ a single incident could be shoehorned into a for cause under that definition, Delikat said. “If he was fired for cause his contract would provide that he receive no further payments.”
Delikat added that Lauer’s contract could have a specific provision for termination without cause. If NBC used that to fire Lauer, the company may have to pay him the balance of what he’s due under his contract.
Lauer was reportedly making about $20 million annually under the contract that kept him at NBC through 2018.
Delikat noted that it is common for large companies like NBC to include “morality clauses in their contract” that would allow the company to terminate an employee such as Lauer. Especially because allegations like this could affect NBC, big time.
“Even an accusation, if it may hurt the network, could be a basis for termination,” employment lawyer and Law & Crime legal analyst Misty Marris said.
In regards to the speed of the investigation and the firing taking place less than two days after, Marris believes this indicates that there was solid evidence to support the allegations. A quick response, she says, is usually the result of strong evidence.
“A year ago it never would have happened this quickly,” Delikat said, “but we are living in a very different environment now where claims of sexual harassment in media and government are being met with a response of zero tolerance.”