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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and the Boston Celtics Coach Scandal

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

On September 23, 2022, the Boston Celtics announced the suspension of head coach Ime Udoka for the entire season.  The reason given for the suspension was for “violation of team policies.”  The announcement was vague, poorly handled, and left many questions unanswered.

One media outlet wrote, “On September 21, reports surfaced that Udoka faced suspension for the 2022–2023 season, ostensibly for an inappropriate relationship with another team employee. The official announcement came the following day and cited only unspecified policy “violations,” noting only that “a decision about his future with the Celtics beyond this season will be made at a later date.” Udoka’s punishment followed a “months long investigation” by a private law firm, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck subsequently said at a news conference.

Matt Barnes, who initially defended Udoka upon hearing about the suspension, revoked his support after finding out the “facts.” “This situation in Boston is deep. It’s messy. It’s a hundred times uglier than any of us thought,” he said in a video. “Some things happened that I can’t condone, I can’t back, and it’s not my place to tell you what happened.”

Despite all the cryptic messaging, no substantive information on Udoka’s actual transgressions has materialized in the week that elapsed since the news broke. In some ways, this is impressive — how are the Celtics so tightly sealed against leaks? — and in other ways, it is confusing, not least for people on the team.”

The full story has yet to be revealed but there are intimations that the truth is far worse than a “violation of team policy”.  The rumors about Udoka having consensual and non-consensual relations with subordinates and making sexually harassing comments about other subordinates warrants much more than a year suspension, if the allegations are true. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious matter and has legal consequences.  It is also rampant in some circles such as in the Harvey Weinstein case.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is generally treated as a civil matter in the U.S. This means that the victim may sue the perpetrator (or, more typically, the employer) in civil court for monetary damages. Sexual harassment, as such, is not a crime under state or federal law in the U.S. However, certain acts of sexual harassment are also crimes.  

In the case of the Celtics, the ownership group chose to suspend their coach for a year but is that enough?  We don’t know because we don’t know the full details of what occurred.  If the rumors of further bad behavior are true, suspension is clearly not enough.  The coach should have been fired.  In all likelihood, the truth will be revealed in due time.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace, please contact us immediately.  We have a wealth of experience handling these cases, including the notorious Harvey Weinstein case. 

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