Harassment suit: Closer look
Former NASCAR official Mauricia Grant has filed a $225 million racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit against NASCAR (read the full lawsuit – .pdf). Yahoo! Sports legal analyst Craig Silverman discussed the suit, its merit and its potential damaging impact on NASCAR.
Y! Sports: You’ve read the suit. What do you make of it?
Craig Silverman: It’s a well-done lawsuit. It tells a compelling case, which if true, will have serious repercussions.
This is what stands out for me: The number of sensational allegations against a huge number of NASCAR officials. It can be expected that any organization has one or two bad apples, but according to this lawsuit nearly the whole bunch is bad.
Y! Sports: The allegations she makes are extremely detailed. Is that typical in a discrimination case like this?
CS: Let me start with a disclaimer. Allegations like this are easy to make and tough to defend, especially in the court of public opinion. Miss Grant was fired by NASCAR. It’s possible she made this stuff up in reaction to being fired.
That said, I see quality and quantity allegations in this lawsuit. In other words, these are not statements subject to possible misinterpretations. These are prejudicial and sexist statements that nobody can deny. She not only has quality allegations of prejudice and sexism, she has a whole bunch of them from a whole bunch of NASCAR officials. That’s what makes this unusual.
In a lot of cases, you see one person doing the harassing, or maybe two, and some of these allegations are subject to interpretation. Like, “Oh, you look nice today,” or “That’s a nice sweater.” These are instances where someone could credibly say, “I don’t see the big deal.” But in this case, most people can see the big deal. It really would make a person in Mauricia Grant’s position tremendously uncomfortable in the work place.
Y! Sports: From an outsider’s perspective, $225 million seems excessive. Why that number?
CS: It is sensational, but it’s designed to grab attention. It is a huge number, but, if these kinds of allegations are proven, the law in this area allows a jury to punish by awarding a huge amount of money. The large award would be designed to deter NASCAR from allowing this to happen again and send a message to other corporations that this is not tolerated.
You always ask for more than you realistically expect. Of course, she’ll settle with a small fraction if NASCAR is so willing.
Y! Sports: NASCAR chairman Brian France said the first he had heard of these allegations is through the lawsuit, that Mauricia Grant never bothered to tell management what was going on. But Grant claims she did tell her supervisor.
CS: We have a factual dispute whether Mauricia Grant made the appropriate complaint to her supervisor and human relations people. NASCAR’s defense is going to be, “Wow, if we would have known about this we would have taken actions against bigots in our employ. How can we do anything if she didn’t tell us?” This is a highly predictable response.
But pay attention to what France said, because it’s critical. He’s making the she-didn’t-tell-the-right-supervisor claim rather than saying that it never happened.
Y! Sports: What happens next?
CS: It plays out with phone records, emails, any written documents and then, if none of those help, it becomes a credibility contest.
This case could cost many millions of dollars to litigate. I would anticipate huge electronic discovery for all NASCAR officials. The depositions of officials are going to be wild with these kind of allegations being made.
Every one of these officials mentioned in the suit will be investigated. Grant’s attorneys are going to look into everything, including what country clubs they belong to, what strips clubs they’ve visited – anything that might potentially lead to relevant evidence at trial.
She said to all of these guys, “You’re a prejudice and sexist son of a gun.” All of these guys will have their lives opened up.
But so will she.
The key is what NASCAR did once they knew about it, if they indeed knew about it. Reporting is really important. And her attorneys will do their best to find out.
Y! Sports: But what if she’s not credible? What if she’s just going after the money?
CS: She’s jumped off the diving board into the deep end. Her career path is over regardless.
When you file a lawsuit like this, you open up your own life to scrutiny, just like Roger Clemens did. When you attack someone in such a defiant way, you’d better prepare to be attacked back. That’s one of the only defenses they have, to say, “This is a horrible lying person who was bad at her job and that’s why we fired her.” NASCAR’s attorneys are trying to gather that information right now. They have to discredit her or settle with her or get ready to pay a huge jury verdict.
Y! Sports: So, what will NASCAR do? Will it settle?
CS: For all these reasons, I anticipate NASCAR wants to settle this case as quickly and quietly as possible. The only caveat to that is if these allegations are entirely made up.
But given Brian France’s response, it doesn’t appear that NASCAR is going to make that claim.
So the smart money is on a settlement, sooner rather than later, because once it goes to depositions, those things are likely going to be public record depending on attorney agreements.
NASCAR probably has a team of top-flights lawyers assessing Mauricia Grant’s credibility and lack thereof.
There are complete flakes in the world and maybe she’s one, but I’m pretty sure the law firm representing her has vetted that and they aren’t going to risk their reputation to represent a flake.
In court of public opinion, first you go to NASCAR’s clientele. Maybe this suit isn’t going to ruin their existing patrons. But it could affect NASCAR’s ability to attract new markets.
Also, they have a lot of corporations intertwined with their business. I’ve worked with Barney Visser, who owns the Furniture Row team. Barney Visser doesn’t want that connection. He wants to sell furniture. Corporations could look at this and say, “Hey, we can’t afford this bad PR hit. Let’s associate with someone else.”
Right now, this suit hasn’t had a big impact on the public. But if it goes to trial and Mauricia Grant talks to the media and she’s found credible, that’s really going to be painful for NASCAR.
Craig Silverman is a legal analyst for Yahoo! Sports. He is the primary partner of Silverman & Olivas PC, a Denver trial law firm that handles civil litigation. He has practiced law since 1981.