Weekly Wrap: Should Anyone Be Punished Twice For the Same Offense?

Am I the only one in America who thinks that fired Rutgers University men’s basketball coach Mike Rice got a raw deal and was punished twice for the same offense?

It’s a question that no one seems to be asking in the rush to judgment to fire Rice, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti (who resigned today) and Rutgers University President Robert Barchi (who seems to be holding on to his job by his fingernails).

And although I understand that the college president and athletic director are fair game now for what they didn’t do last December — take a zero tolerance policy and fire their abusive coach — canning him now after already punishing him four months ago should be troubling to anyone who manages talent and believes in treating people equitably.

Originally, “no outcry” over the issue

Here’s how The New York Times describes what happened:

On Wednesday morning, Rutgers fired Rice, a day after video surfaced of him berating players during practice, throwing basketballs at them, kicking them and taunting them with vulgar language, including homophobic slurs. The firing came four months after Rutgers learned of the abuse allegation and punished Rice by suspending him for three games, fining him $50,000 and ordering him to take anger management counseling.”

And the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, added this:

An outside law firm was hired by the university last year to advise on what should be done with Rice — fire him or punish him — and the university considered how much legal action it was risking, with two years left on the coach’s contract…

The law firm reviewed hours of videos and the coach’s contract and concluded Rice could not be legally fired under the terms of his contract, based on the conduct seen on the video tapes, according to university sources familiar with report. Those sources declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The report was given to the president in early December.

Pernetti decided to suspend Rice without pay for three games and fined him $50,000 for inappropriate behavior and language the school deemed a violation of athletic department policy. Under his contract, Rice was paid $650,000 a year in base pay and guaranteed compensation, not including incentives for winning

The videos were not released and the university said little about the case, but detailed descriptions of what the videos contained soon emerged. Still, there was no outcry over the issue, nor demands for the coach’s termination.”

A textbook HR way of handling the issue?

So, a video of the head basketball coach abusing his players surfaces and the athletic director engages an outside law firm to do an investigation. In the wake of that investigation, the athletic director — in consultation with the university president — decides to follow the recommendation of the outside law firm and suspend the coach temporarily, fine him (a not-unsubstantial $50k), and make him undergo anger management counseling.

Is this a textbook HR way of handling the issue, or what?

Coach Rice was punished for his abusive coaching tactics, and although it’s easy now to say that he should have been fired back in December  — and by the way, I would have opted to ignore the advice of outside legal counsel and terminate the coach then, with extreme prejudice — that’s not what they decided to do.

So, what has Rice done since then that supports the decision to fire him now?

Nothing, as far as I can tell. The only thing that happened is that ESPN got hold of a video that documents Rice’s abusive style and made it public, thereby embarrassing the university and shedding light on their decision NOT to fire Rice the first time around.

Fired because first punishment was screwed up

You should only get one shot at punishing someone unless something new happens or some additional element is revealed that wasn’t known when the original punishment was handed down.

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And what’s new about these videos of Mike Rice aired by ESPN? Nothing, at least nothing that Rutgers administrators didn’t already know about when they decided on his punishment in December.

Yes, Mike Rice was fired because Rutgers screwed up how they penalized him the first time.

I believe in progressive discipline, but this has nothing to do with that  — it’s simply about taking another whack at the Mike Rice piñata because Rutgers administrators didn’t hit it hard enough when they first had their chance.

And there’s this as well: the newly fired Mike Rice is going to get a $100,000 bonus, according to the Sporting News, because his “five-year contract called for a $100,000 bonus if he completed the 2012-13 season.”

In other words, Rice wouldn’t be getting this bonus if he had been fired, rather than just disciplined, when Rutgers administrators dealt with this back in December. You can make a case for firing someone over that as well.

So, this mess brings me to one last question: can you think of an HR investigation, discipline and/or termination that was handed as badly as this one? Maybe someone should get fired for that, because it’s as bad as the abuse that Coach Rice was ultimately terminated for.

Adios to the office cubicle?

Of course, there’s a lot more than firing abusive coaches in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Workers with tracking sensors. Would you want to wear a tracking sensor on the job? I think it’s safe to say that most employees wouldn’t, but Cindy Krischer Goodman at The Miami Herald digs into this new (although lamentable) workplace trend. She says: “It’s happening in a big way and many employees are going along with it. Companies are squeezing sensors into everything from lanyards to office furniture to record how staffers navigate through their day and use office space.”
  • Bad air driving talent out of Beijing. China has a well-known pollution problem, and even though Beijing is a booming business center, it seems to be especially bad there. And as the Christian Science Monitor points out, “Three months of shockingly bad air pollution, known to foreigners here as the “airpocalypse,” is now prompting growing numbers of expatriates and their families to leave China, and some companies to offer hazard pay to keep them here, according to executive recruiters, doctors, and business leaders.”
  • Adios to the old office cubicle. The Wall Street Journal says that, “As the nation’s economy recovers, office-furniture makers, who were hit hard by the recession, are racking up sales by persuading companies that newer office layouts can encourage collaboration and, in some cases, shrink their space requirements and costs.”
  • Mandatory sick leave bill getting vetoed in Philly. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco have already mandated sick days for all workers, but count Philadelphia as one municipality going the other way. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, “The bill would require businesses with six to 20 employees to provide four paid sick days a year, with larger businesses providing seven days. Mom-and-pop stores would be exempt. Interns, nonregular employees, and state and federal employees would be excluded.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


4 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: Should Anyone Be Punished Twice For the Same Offense?

  1. 100% agree that he should have been fired originally but should not have been punished twice for the same offence.
    I don’t know what was in the contract but I am very surprised that the legal advice was that he could not be fired for the original offence

  2. I agree he should have been fired the first time, more on my thoughts can be found in my recent blog on the topic. Though this is somewhat of a governance issue. The NCAA is becoming a joke. The body responsible for governing these universities and their behavior are themselves not overly respected these days and not uniform in expectations, punishments or involvement; thus leaving many universities with teams they govern to try and get away with as much as possible regarding ethics and behaviors. Bigger leadership issues exist. That said, culture change needs to happen on a larger scale. As a coach, Rice served as a mentor to youth (and though some may not have seen issue with his behavior) in his role and when the bad behavior escalated he was fired, and should have been.

  3. I think the vast majority of us are convinced that this behavior did not stop because of a short suspension and a couple of counseling session. His issues obviously run deep.

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