Sport-In-Law Friday Feature: Former Scout Files Wrongful Termination Suit Against Houston Astros

By Spencer Wingate, a legal assistant for Brock & Scott PLLC in Charlotte, NC and SportInLaw.com author.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Courtesy: AP

Each Friday, The Legal Blitz features an article from our good friends at Sport-In-Law in an effort to fulfill our promise of providing the best sports law content on the Web.  This week’s feature details a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the Houston Astros by one of their former scouting coordinators.

The Houston Astros are coming off their worst season in franchise history.  The club now has a new owner, president, and general manager who have begun to clean house from the previous regime.  Charles Norton, former pro scouting coordinator and director of baseball research, was one of the employees terminated.  Instead of accepting the termination and moving on, he has filed a lawsuit claiming he was unjustly terminated.

Norton states he was promised his job during a meeting on December 16, 2011.  Then on January 3, 2012, Norton claims that new GM Jeff Luhnow made additional statements referencing Norton’s job security for at least one more year.  Nine days later, Norton was fired.  He is now suing the Astros for breaching his contract.  According to his lawsuit, the Astros and Norton had a valid and enforceable contract that guaranteed his position for the upcoming year.  When Luhnow fired Norton, he allegedly stated his position as the club’s director of baseball research and analysis had been eliminated.  Norton was offered a small severance but refused it.  He presented the Astros with a settlement request, which they denied.  Norton then resorted to filing his lawsuit.  He is seeking his 2012 salary, damages for wrongful termination, and attorney fees.

Since new owner Jim Crane and team president George Postolos have taken control of the Astros, they have preached the importance of scouting and player development.  The Astros farm system has widely been regarded as one of the worst in baseball.  The team should have no trouble showing team performance was the grounds on which Norton was fired.  While Norton was still employed, they interviewed ESPN MLB scouting department director Keith Law.  The Astros are in a process of rebuilding their club through youth development.  At the trade deadline last year, many of their established players were traded for prospects in an effort to inject some talent into the farm system.  Crane has considered changing the Astros logo and name.  Ultimately, the Astros will be moving from the National League to the American League.  Change seems to be a recurring theme throughout the organization and Norton may have been naive to think change would not happen in the research and scouting department.

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