Major League Soccer Manager Nowak Sues Team After Firing
The former manager of the Philadelphia Union, the city’s Major League Soccer team, has filed suit, claiming his ex-employer must pay him for the next two and a half years even though he’s been fired.
Although The Union had the right to fire Peter Nowak, the team has to pay him severance for letting him go before his contract expired on Dec. 31, 2015, the ex-manager contends in his lawsuit. He is also seeking pay he would have received if he’d remained with the team – more than $1 million, according to estimates by Philly.com’s soccer blog.
The team fired Nowak in June, telling him in a letter that he was being let go for hazing players, requiring strenuous training activities on hot days without providing water, disparaging the team to others and other behaviors .
“We don’t contend that it is obligated to put him on the sidelines or control the team. They can remove him from that position,” Nowak’s attorney, Clifford E. Haines of Haines & Associates, told Philadelphia sports blog The Brotherly Game. “They can’t say that we won’t pay him anymore because of a disagreement with him.”
Team officials are largely refusing to comment to the press, although Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz told Philly.com that “The team disputes the allegations in the complaint and will vigorously defend against the lawsuit.”
As fascinating as high-level sports officials’ public contract disputes may be, it’s rare for these cases to offer direct lessons to ordinary workers, said Donna Ballman, a Florida employment lawyer and author of the forthcoming book “Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired.”
“Most employment contracts, unlike the one Mr. Nowak had, still say you’re an at-will employee,” Ballman said. “That means you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.”
But it may not have to be that way, she said. “If you’re being offered a contract, before you sign is the time to negotiate your rights. You need to be sure you can live with the contract if everything goes terribly wrong.”
Ballman offers the following advice for people negotiating contracts with their employers:
- Ask for guarantees: “Especially if you’re moving your family, now is the time to negotiate some guarantees about length of employment, what constitutes ‘cause’ for firing you, and a reasonable severance package.”
- Think about the future: Watch out for non-compete agreements, which may prohibit you from working for a competitor for a year or two after leaving. “You should ask for some severance to cover any non-compete period” or try to negotiate a shorter non-compete period and fewer restrictions on future work.
- Know what you’re worth: “Your ability to negotiate depends on your leverage. If you are the top salesperson in your industry, or a leading expert in your field, the employer wants you and will be willing to negotiate. If it’s your first job, you obviously have little leverage and may have to accept what you can get.”
- Don’t sign anything you don’t understand: “I recommend everyone contact an employee-side employment lawyer if there’s anything in your contract you don’t fully understand. It’s best to understand before you sign. If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating, an employment lawyer can speak for you to try to get the best deal possible.”
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Finally, think through what will happen if your new boss decides not to follow the rules that you negotiate.
“A decent contract can protect you, but never forget that your employer has financial resources you don’t have” – especially if your job is less prominent or less well-paid than Nowak’s, said Ballman. “If you think you might have to sue or be sued over a contract, plan your finances carefully. A lawsuit can cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars.”