The Minnesota Vikings are nearing the conclusion of their investigation of former punter Chris Kluwe’s allegations regarding homophobic comments by special teams coach Mike Priefer, and they should be done in a few weeks per attorney and former U.S. Department of Justice trial lawyer Chris Madel (per Ben Goessling of ESPN). Priefer was one of the few staff retained in the new coaching regime (along with six other coaches, like receivers coach George Stewart and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Jeff Davidson). Kluwe has indicated that if the investigation does not conclude by the anniversary of his release—May 6th—that he will pursue legal action against the Vikings.

The May 6th deadline is significant because the deadline by which Kluwe can file a complaint under the Minnesota Human Rights Act is one year, which is why it makes sense for him to file a suit before the investigation is complete (he cannot file a suit after the investigation, should it finish after May 6th).

The likelihood of the investigation finishing before the draft is low, and they will take their own time. Initially, Chris Madel expected the investigation to conclude at the end of March, which of course hasn’t happened.

**UPDATE**: Per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings have agreed to extend the statute of limitations on any potential lawsuit, which means that Kluwe, who was under the impression he needed to file a lawsuit by the 6th (per Minnesota law), may wait until the conclusion of the investigation.

He also indicated that he would sue “obviously for wrongful termination” but I would rather take his lawyers, Clay Halunen’s, word from February 2nd on the wide range of suits that they would potentially pursue, which is broader than the scope of wrongful termination (more on that below).

Kluwe also said the lawsuit may end up being for “quite a bit” of money, and agreed when asked if it could be upwards of $30 million. He also said that he would donate every penny of damages to LGBT charities if he won.

**UPDATE2**: Chris Kluwe contacted me over twitter to say that yes, I should probably defer to his lawyer when discussing the specific terms of any potential lawsuit, and that the “wrongful termination” bit was just a “quick quote”—which is fair. I would also point out that Kluwe was also likely not inaccurate when characterizing what he would sue for, simply incomplete.

*****

 

For those who may not remember, Kluwe initially publicized the allegations that Priefer said, with hostile intent that, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows,” on December 2nd in a Deadspin piece.

He further claimed that general manager Rick Spielman and then-head coach Leslie Frazier discouraged him from speaking out on social issues and had an unproductive meeting with team player development director Les Pico about Priefer’s comments shortly before being cut in May.

Priefer has vehemently denied Kluwe’s allegations, and kicker Blair Walsh—while not denying the allegations—spoke in favor of Priefer and defended his character shortly after Kluwe’s allegations were made public.

I am not a lawyer, but I think that any lawsuit that hinges on wrongful termination may end poorly, because they will require an interpretation of Kluwe’s 2012 performance. Chris Kluwe has been vocal and active in arguing that NFL punter averages are irrelevant in evaluating punter performance, a critical argument he uses in his Ray Guy Hall of Fame advocacy, yet argues that his punting average was good enough to retain employment.

For what it’s worth, nearly every special teams coach uses a play-by-play analysis similar to third-party evaluation website Pro Football Focus when evaluating special teams performance (important because PFF grades are often used in agent-team negotiations and a proxy to judge performance if Kluwe argues his grades were skewed). In PFF’s grades, he ranks 25th overall and had a 25th overall punting average (as counted by PFF which counts differently than the NFL, which ranks him 17th in punting average). As a punter due $1.45 million (against a rookie due $405,000), this may not fly.

Kluwe’s layer, Clay Halunen, argues that there are a number of other suits to pursue, including religious discrimination, a “sexual orientation claim,” a retaliation claim and others. The religious discrimination claim would rely on statements Priefer made about Kluwe’s atheism, which haven’t been made public like Priefer’s statements regarding gays and lesbians.

The claims regarding a protected class are extremely tricky, but generally speaking require (as far as I understand) that a member of a protected class initiate the suit or at least be the ones demonstrating harm. Should a member or former member of the Minnesota Vikings come out as not-straight (it is not a stretch that any orientation other than straight—not just gay—would feel threatened by Priefer’s comment) to support Kluwe’s lawsuit, this would go in a different direction.

It is largely tricky because this is one case the protected class is not immediately identifiable (unlike gender or race discrimination suits) and may be subject to (real or perceived) harm should they “out” themselves to be identifiable. Should Halunen effectively forward this argument (which is more compelling in casual conversations than legalese), Kluwe may have a case.

Any “hostile workplace” claims may fall under a similar purview, but reprisal may be a claim that Kluwe can most effectively pursue (based on my interpretation of law—again, I have not even taken a law school class, much less the bar). The Minnesota Human Rights Act outlines that one may be subject to protections not just by being members of a protected class, but protected against employers discriminating against those who “oppose discrimination” or “have friends from other protected classes.” It also protects employees who take part in “local Human Rights Commission Activity,” which Kluwe has not done.

Further, the Minnesota Human Rights Act does not protect against religious discrimination, but the broader term “creed,” which does not have to include God or Gods, but instead a broad set of strongly held beliefs.

Beyond that, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission de facto processes claims regarding sexual orientation by broadly interpreting congressional mandates on religious discrimination in employment, though this may not hold up to challenges.

It’s a complex suit that involves claims aside from “wrongful termination,” but may hinge upon the reasons he was released. Nevertheless, if Halunen interprets the MNHRA to protect against all forms of workplace harassment, not just termination, then they will have a significant case against the Vikings and special teams coach Mike Priefer should Kluwe’s statements bear out with evidence.

53 COMMENTS

  1. Oh come on, he sucked got cut and is demanding attention, and wont let the spot light leave him. Hes simply an attention whore. Hes great at making allegations, but thats all it is, I havent seen one scrap of evidence to any alligation he has made. He claimed locke and walsh would side with him, they attacked him. So he has no credibility. And on another note, god im so sick of people who demand everyone to think like them and if one doesnt they rip into you. Last time i checked we lived in a free country and allowed personal view points. I know the liberal media sure doesnt think that way.

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    • “And on another note, god im so sick of people who demand everyone to think like them and if one doesnt they rip into you. Last time i checked we lived in a free country and allowed personal view points”

      What in the hell are you talking about?

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      • I believe he is taking the stance that Kluwe shouldn’t be attacking Priefer because Priefer doesn’t support homosexual marriage. There’s no evidence that he ever made the statements Kluwe alleged so it’s truly become a lawsuit against his beliefs. For somebody who screams tolerance from the rooftops (or deadspin in this case) Kluwe isn’t very tolerant of somebody who believes in religion and has a religious viewpoint.

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        • Yet again it has nothing to do with viewpoints. He is accusing him of essentially attacking Kluwe based on his views and using what can be called “hateful” speech to do it. Then terminating him because of his views. You are right at this point there is no evidence but that is why he would be suing so that under oath people would have to tell the truth whether it supports him or not.

          And what he accuses Priefer of has nothing to do with tolerance. How hard is that to understand?

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  2. Kluwe go away. It’s over dude, let it go. The team decided to draft a punter, pay him less for at least the same results. Plus he’s young and will most likely get better.
    Maybe if you had kept your mouth shut a little more and concentrate on kicking that ball better we wouldn’t be talking about it. If you were still employed would you be pulling this crap? I doubt it….go away.

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    • Not to take away from your argument about costing less with a younger player, but “Maybe if you had kept your mouth shut a little more and concentrate on kicking that ball better we wouldn’t be talking about it. If you were still employed would you be pulling this crap?” is exactly the reason he’s suing—he feels he should not be in a place where he needs to “shut his mouth” in order to retain employment.

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      • He’s representing the Vikings if they tell him not to put them in a controversial conversation he shouldn’t. Look at it the other way, if he was cut for having a swastika tattoo would that be a reason to sue? Bottom line he represents the Vikings and his viewpoints reflect on the team so yes that’s reason to lose your job.

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        • If there is no known policy about tattoos then he could potentially have a case. And he was given the go ahead to champion the cause by the team owner from what he has claimed.

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        • Companies are prevented by law from restricting employees from advancing antidiscrimination work, and are generally prevented from restricting offsite political speech. Public figures whose publicity was gained through participation with a third party are not restricted by that third part from political speech, so long as they say they do not represent the third party, which is what Kluwe did.

          So it is a little bit different than a swastika tattoo.

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      • it wasn’t shut up or you’re fired…probably more like…your non football life is getting in the way of your on field play, we’re not telling you how to live, but improve your performance or you’re gone, plain and simple…..I don’t want to hear how much money kluwe might make from this….I want to hear that the Vikings’ legal team has just busted kluwe, bankrupted him financially and spiritually and made him wish he had never played this out…..I drink two beers a year…the day that report comes out, I will drink a third!!!!!

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        • I am not sure you understand how the legal system works. But either way what you said was not factually true. His stats were in line with his previous years so really his advocacy caused no problems with his play on the field. It seems like it allegedly had more of an effect on his coach though.

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  3. I don’t have access to the premium stats at PFF these days but I remember reviewing them for Kluwe when I did. While he had declined from his peak rankings and relative to the rest of the league’s punters, PFF still graded him positively for his last two years with the Vikings and graded all but one game positively in both years. No offense against Locke and he should get better, but he graded out negatively for most of the games in his rookie year as well as for the year as a whole. In other words, according to PFF, Kluwe was still a servicable NFL punter in 2011 and 2012 and was much better than Locke was in 2013.

    By the way, at Kluwe’s age, he could easilly have played another five or six years, which means he is out a good $6-9 million dollars of income (and this is where the Ryan Longwell analogy beloved of “Shut Up, Kluwe” crowd breaks down). Kluwe never named any of the other players in the room when Priefer allegedly made his comments so he certainly never said that Locker and Walsh, specifically, would back him up. In any case, Locke (rookie) and Walsh (2nd-year man) hardly attacked Kluwe when they spoke up for their coach (who, oh yeah, might have just suceeded in getting a veteran player cut).

    Lastly, I don’t remember Kluwe ever saying that he wanted Priefer to think just like him, but saying something like “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows” goes well beyond disagreeing over the question of same-sex marriage. Kluwe should have gone to the union and the Vikings’ Human Resources department immediately after Priefer alledgedly made his statement. God knows if Priefer had said that all of the fundamentalist Christians should be rounded up and nuked Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and company would have all gone nuts.

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    • Indeed, Locke was one of the worst punters in PFF’s grading, while Kluwe graded out positively. You can rank positively and rank 25th, because the positional rankings are normalized against punters over the previous several years (in this case, 2008-2012), which means he was a better than average punter from 08-12, but not a better than average punter against the rest of the field in 2013.

      I think the larger sticking point is that it makes sense for a team to get rid of a punter who their ST coach (evidently, per Kluwe’s Deadspin article) graded him negatively and who could only be called “serviceable” at best while commanding nearly $1.5M in cap space, when serviceable punters are theoretically found at league minimum.

      Also, I think the Vikings did not expect the first punter selected in the 2013 draft to be that poor initially, and they rightly should expect him to improve.

      It’s a money-vs-performance argument that will be difficult to overcome, because another million is key buffer space and may have been useful in signing Everson Griffen or creating contract incentives that players are not technically “likely to earn,” but very well could.

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      • Arif, you really are the best commentator on the Vikings anywhere.

        And I say that even though I know it makes me sound like a Belieber or JoBros fan.

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  4. Oh brother…tape Kluwe to the goal post. He is such a PUSS. He’s the guy who thinks he’s so above everyone he can be the morality police, all because he got cut. Where’s the other teams? No one wants him. This is the new be tolarent or pay society and Kluwe is taking it all the way. I have alot of intolerance for Kluwe, I hate that guy. Sparkle ponies? Tripping Icarus? He thinks he’s smart and he’s an idiot.

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  5. “I’m gonna tell on you…” -Kluwe. Remember that kid? That’s Kluwe. Tape him to the goal post.

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    • Kluwe wants a career as a media figure, not a punter. He had a tryout with Oakland and wrote a pained media piece (his favorite activity) about how awful it is that we football players must compete for jobs so I will help this poor, stumbling rookie find his way and we will love each other like football brothers. Unless maybe Kluwe thought the whole kumbaya bit was going to cause the Raiders to carry two punters, he should not have been surprised as lo and behold, after helping the kid kick better than him, the kid got the job. This was a good outcome though, because Kluwe got cut, leaving him free to do the job he really loves which is not punting, but media whoring.

      He’s now desperately trying to keep his 15 minutes of fame going by attacking the Vikings, so he can continue the conceit that he’s some sort of gay rights activist, and maybe bank a couple million of Zygi’s coin. Twitting insults and vulgarities and straining for attention is not a career as a rights activist, a job which in reality involves a lot of what we used to call blood, sweat and tears.

      Fortunately for Kluwe, if your description of the Minnesota Human Rights Act is accurate, it appears it can be used to sue anyone for any slight, real or perceived. He can probably keep this ball rolling for years and maybe get his payola from the Vikings as well. Sure he didn’t bother complaining about wrongful termination at the time, or file a grievance with the NFLPA. Sure he’s not a member of the protected class, but he plays one on twitter! So, sue sue sue!

      God help me if I ever insult the wrong person in Minnesota or make an off color joke. I’ll be sued out of existence!

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      • I guess you missed the part where he said he would donate anything he won from this to LGBT Charities unless you think he is going to go back on that which would completely ruin your media whore theory because he would be completely toxic at that point.

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        • I don’t care what he does with the money, it’s just part of the Kluwe media whore show as far as I’m concerned. It’s a phony lawsuit from a phony guy imo.

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        • if it’s run like many “charities” nine out of ten dollars would go to kluwe as the director and the balance “might” go where it can do some good…quit the nit picking, kluwe dreams of being the person in 2014 who changes the face of the NFL forever…like free agency etc….he thinks the time is right, gay players coming out etc, and he’s on a mission….who cares about the lawsuit payout, his dreams are much bigger than that…I mean, the man who brought the Vikings and the NFL to their knees…….he’s gonna be FAMOUS!!!!! #1 best seller…TV star…the sky’s the limit…..and THAT money he dreams of keeping…….oh, and the lawyers he collects for his side wanna use him too….yeah, I predict kluwe is going to lose big time when this is over…..

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          • What in the hell are you talking about? I do not think Kluwe runs any LGBT Charities. He does run Kluwe’s Kick for the Cure but I do not think that has anything with the topic on hand so I am not sure how donating any lawsuit “winnings” would go to him at all.

            It is nice that you have big dreams for Kluwe I am sure he goes to bed happier than you are thinking about his future.

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  6. Small Kluwe ripple. The effect of Kluwe for the Vikes and other teams is that during the draft if there are two players of equal talent at the same position and one is highly public, opinionated, and the type of that might sue you if you accidently sneezed on him, you draft the other guy.

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  7. The fact that Kluwe waited until the Vikes might be hiring a new staff so he could get him fired and not hired by any other team, comes off as spiteful, vengeance, and petty, not standing up for justice.

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    • Timing can be a bitch to figure out. I’ve said that Kluwe should have gone to the union and the Vikes’ HR department right away but having failed to do so, I can understand how hard it might be to either come forward at all or when to do so. Kluwe definitely sounded angry when he spoke out after the season but if you think someone in a supervisory position is going to say bigoted things on the job or verbal abuse his subordinates and possibily even get them cut/fired you could reasonably argue that your speaking out will protect other people/players/workers.

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  8. What a putz, and I even agree with him on his social issues. This could be called a ransom lawsuit, and its intentions are to get the Vikings to the bargaining table to work out a settlement. The guy can’t even stick with the Raiders after getting cut by the Vikings and he thinks in court he will get any sympathy whatsoever? I think not. This is entirely for negotiating purposes.

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  9. Kluwe was pretty good for a few years there. I’m indifferent to his personality, some of his points have been good, but his boldness and style of communication haven’t helped his cause. If you can’t state these things simply, you are going to lose to people who can.

    As a specialist you can add to your value by having a unique skillset (placement, accuracy in wind, exceptional height or distance) or by being tremendously reliable. If you are not exceptionally skilled or reliable, you are expendable.

    As noted (Locke and Walsh) specialists know to keep their head down. They are a few poor performances or an injury from finding a new, significantly less cozy jobs. Significantly less cozy. Kluwe felt empowered by his perceived success in publicized commentary. He’s made money from this league, these young guys haven’t. They are in no position to side against their employer.

    It was disappointing that Priefer was retained in my opinion. Special teams coaches are replaceable too. Given the opportunity, I would have looked to move on from the entire problem. I can only assume management felt Priefers actual involvement did not justify his removal at a perfectly opportune time. Football coaching has at times been shown to be a good ole boys club. One generation behind and proud of it.

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    • Seriously, Xlevity, you think, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” is only distasteful, and no worse than, “Look at all those men just kissing the tip of that ball. Mmmmm. Just the tip.” (following your link)?

      So, if I were to say that we should round up all of the Catholics, lock them up in the churches and then burn them all to the ground, that’s no more beyond the pale than making an off-color and slightly vulgar joke?

      And if it was proved that some black coach had said to a white player after the 1992 LA riots that Reginald Denny “got what he deserved” and he wished that more white motorists had been pulled out of their vehicles and beaten, he wouldn’t deserve any more discipline than implying that someone was doing something vaguely homoerotic?

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      • CKA, the point is that Kluwe has tarnished his own reputation. Being outspoken is wonderful but is he fairly representing the LGBT community by making that comment? Where does Kluwe’s personality fit into all of this? Priefers comment is a sound bite, how do you know it wasn’t retaliation for Kluwe not respecting Priefers beliefs? If you work closely with someone who feels differently than you about something, you agree to disagree and you avoid that topic. Based on what you know about Kluwe, is there any chance he instigated this rather than Priefer attacking him after his public commentary? What does Kluwe have to lose if he isn’t rewarded anything? Attorney fees.. What does he have to gain? A hefty tax write off, great publicity for a legitimate cause, a reputation for taking action against employment rights violations, a book deal, maybe a radio show. It could be quite beneficial. Personally I have no problem with what he stands for, but I don’t want extremists representing these causes. Also, if I was in the news stirring the pot on a divisive issue and my work performance was slipping, I’d be offered the door.. For performance reasons only.

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        • Trust me when I say this from my 30 years of experience as a community activist. When it comes to activism on behalf of the LGBT community, Chris Kluwe is pretty damn near vanilla. Hell, Andrew Sullivan, conservative pundit, neo-conservative journalist and the most prominent proponent of gay marriage within the LGBT community for the last 20 years or more makes Kluwe look like a choir boy. Kluwe may have a big mouth and a sharp tongue/pen but they are only magnified because he is speaking out on these issues in the very straight world of pro football. If we were back in the days when ACT-UP and Queer Nation were mobilizing hundreds and thousands of people to take on the government, Big Pharma and the Roman Catholic Church, Kluwe’s language would have fit right in.

          And so would his integrity, which I’ve never heard credibly questioned anywhere.

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        • Sure, when Pro Bowl games were held in legally segregated cities and the players’ union went on strike five times in 20 years.

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    • What exactly do you think his twitter comments will prove in court? Is he directing them at someone at his work to harass them?

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  10. If Kluwe was such a good punter, then why did the Raiders cut him before the season even started? Ouch!

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    • Because he was competing against a 24-year old who ended up leading the league with 48.9 gross yards per punt, and although Marquette King’s net average of 40.1 years per punt was only tied for tenth place, it was still higher than Kluwe ever averaged. On the other hand, King’s two blocked punts was one more than Kluwe had over the course of his career, his touchback percentage was about 1.5 times Kluwe’s career average and more than four times Kluwe’s 2012 TB percentage. In any case, King had a far better 2013 and Kluwe a far better 2012 than Jeff Locke’s 2013.

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