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Can Chris Kluwe sue the Vikings for wrongful termination?

Minnesotans and sports fans around the country have by now likely become familiar with the dispute between former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and leadership for the NFL team. Mr. Kluwe gained national recognition outside of the sports world for his activism on the issue of gay marriage and marriage equality, which began when he defended the actions of another player on a different team who was being targeted for their own support of the issue.

Now, Mr. Kluwe has published a long essay indicating that he believes he was fired from the team as a direct result of his advocacy in favor of same-sex marriage. The question on the minds of many is whether Mr. Kluwe has any recourse against the team aside from publicizing his experience as a form of negative public relations for the team.

The definition of wrongful termination is having been fired or forced to quit for an illegal reason. Illegal reasons for being terminated include racial discrimination, gender discrimination, retaliation for taking medical leave, and many other reasons.

The question in this case would be whether firing the professional football player for his outspoken comments was in fact illegal, since while NFL players have the right to speak their mind under the First Amendment, it only protects them from persecution by the government, not private parties and typically not their employer. This means that firing Mr. Kluwe on the basis of his comments may not be illegal and therefore would not be grounds for a wrongful termination suit. The team has released a statement indicating that he was fired based solely on his performance on the field.

Source: Slate, “Ex-NFL Punter Says He Was Fired Because of His Gay-Marriage Advocacy,” Josh Voorhees, Jan. 2, 2014

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