By Zach Arnold | May 31, 2016
William M. Crosby (SBN: 49357)
13522 Newport Avenue, Suite 201
Tustin, California 92780-3707
Telephone: (714) 544-2493
Fax: (714) 544-2497
SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA FOR THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, CENTRAL DISTRICT
ZACHERY LIGHT vs. BELLATOR SPORT WORLDWIDE LLC, a Delaware LLC; VIACOM INC., a Delaware corporation; DOES I through X, inclusive
COMPLAINT FOR WRONGFUL TERMINATION BASED ON PUBLIC POLICY; JURY TRIAL DEMAND
SUMMARY OF CLAIMS
This is an action for damages by plaintiff against defendants based on an egregious bad faith course of conduct toward plaintiff due to plaintiff’s having protested certain illegal practices jeopardizing the health and safety of professional fighters and mixed martial artists all for defendants’ profit and financial gain. As a result plaintiff was shunned, harassed, slandered, and demeaned in an attempt to discredit and sabotage plaintiff. Consequently, plaintiff was forced to go on an extended medical leave and was thereafter wrongfully terminated when he attempted to return from such medical leave. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, including economic damages for past and future loss of earning and benefits, general damages for emotional distress and reputational harm, and punitive damages.
PARTIES & AGENCY
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Plaintiff was exclusively responsible for the sale of tickets through fighters to these events, often selling thousands of tickets per event. Through 2014, plaintiff had sold over $2.5 million in ticket sales, in part through the use of local fighters on consignment. In addition, plaintiff recruited and signed fighters and performed numerous other vital duties for the company.
VIACOM’S ACQUISITION OF DEFENDANT BELLATOR AND THE CHANGE IN DEFENDANT BELLATOR’S CULTURE FOLLOWING A CHANGE IN MANAGEMENT:
Defendant VIACOM acquired a controlling stake in defendant BELLATOR in or about January of 2013. In June of 2014, (Bjorn) Rebney left the company and was replaced by Scott Coker as CEO. Thereafter defendant BELLATOR closed its Orange County office and moved its office to the Los Angeles County VIACOM office in Santa Monica, where plaintiff remained employed until his wrongful termination. Contemporaneous with this change in management, there was a marked change in defendant BELLATOR’s management practices. Gone were the regular and recurring mandates from prior management to obey and exceed the high standards of adherence to state and national rules and regulations governing mixed martial arts events. The marked change in management practices was also evidence by a disregard for well established business protocols in the accounting for consignment tickets and income from events. Plaintiff also noted a lack of communication regarding important issues such as status of upcoming events and fighters contracts.
DEFENDANT BELLATOR’S MULTIPLE VIOLATIONS OF STATUTES ENACTED TO PROTECT THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF MIXED MARTIAL ARTS FIGHTERS:
Beginning in September of 2014, plaintiff became aware of a number of instances in which defendant BELLATOR failed to observe and knowingly disobeyed laws enacted to protect the health and safety and mixed martial arts fighters. California Business and Professions Code 18711 requires a medical clearance examination by the licensed physician for participants in a mixed martial arts fight. Plaintiff learned from a reliable source at an event refereed to as Bellator 126 in September of 2014, that fighter Ryan Martinez’ state-mandated blood and eye medicals submitted to the state of Arizona were admittedly forged. At an event in San Diego referred to as Bellator 131 in November of 2014, plaintiff learned from reliable sources that a number of fighters on the card had submitted California state-required medicals by one Adam Rendon, who was not a licensed physician, in violation of Business and Professions Code 18711 and 17500.
PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINTS TO DEFENDANT BELLATOR MANAGEMENT REGARDING FORGED MEDICAL REPORTS:
Approximately 48 hours prior to Martinez’ scheduled fight at Bellator 126, plaintiff promptly reported what he had learned to Rich Chou, defendant BELLATOR’s Vice President of Talent. Chou assured plaintiff that he would follow up and that plaintiff should focus on his job. When plaintiff heard nothing further from Chou, he approached Coker regarding Martinez’ impending fight based on forged medicals, in violation of Arizona law. Coker told plaintiff to “do what Chou told you to do,” without addressing these issues. Thereafter, plaintiff again brought the subject up to Chou. Chou threatened plaintiff with termination if he kept pushing the issue. Plaintiff later learned that after losing his bout, Martinez never resumed his mixed martial arts career.
Prior to the Bellator 131 event, plaintiff told Coker that fighters had been suspended for using Rendon to sign their medicals because Rendon was not a licensed physician. Coker told plaintiff, “a lot of people at Bellator are going to lose their jobs next week. Do you want to keep yours”> Coker added, “then stay in your lane and stop making waves!” Fearful of losing his job, plaintiff said nothing further regarding the falsified medical reports.
COKER PRESSURES PLAINTIFF TO PROMOTE COLLUSIVE FIGHTS IN VIOLATION OF THE SARBANES-OXLEY ACT:
In the fall of 2014, Coker was award that two of defendant BELLATOR’s most popular fighters, Rampage Jackson and Cheick Kongo, were managed by Anthony McGann. Coker disliked McGann and referred to him as a “fucking terrorist.” Coker told plaintiff that there were “huge problems” negotiating new BELLATOR promotional agreements for Jackson and Congo. Coker was aware of plaintiff’s long-standing friendship with Kongo and instructed plaintiff to use that friendship as a basis to convince Kongo to fire McGann as his manager. Plaintiff told Coker that in addition to being friends with Kongo, he had also previously worked for McGann and did not want to intentionally interfere with the manager/client relationship that existed between McGann and Kongo. Coker instructed plaintiff to negotiate directly with Kongo to sign a bout agreement which was not consistent with his promotional agreement. Plaintiff was not allowed to see Kongo’s promotional agreement. Kongo told plaintiff that the amount of his compensation in the proposed bout agreement was not correct. Coker specifically told plaintiff that if he wanted to keep his job, he should do what he was told and “get rid of McGann.” In fear of losing his job, plaintiff convinced Kongo to fire McGann and pressured him to sign the bout agreement.
The fight under this new bout agreement occurred in September of 2014 against Lavar Johnson at Bellator 123. Kongo was angry upon learning that he would be paid much less than he was contractually entitled to pursuant to his promotional agreement. Plaintiff’s relationship with Kongo was permanently ruined. Chou later acknowledged mistakes and agreed to pay Kongo additional sums for the next bout. Plaintiff suffered lasting harm to his reputation in the mixed martial arts community.
Coker was also enraged with McGann that Jackson had signed a promotional agreement with the UFC while Coker believed that Jackson was still under contract with defendant BELLATOR – a fact contested by Jackson and McGann. This act on McGann and Jackson’s part was a substantial embarrassment to Coker, as it would mean that defendant BELLATOR’s biggest star was leaving defendant BELLATOR for the UFC. In addition to Jackson, McGann had a number of additional fighters under contract at defendant BELLATOR. Coker told plaintiff to “get the terrorist’s fighters beaten and beaten badly,” thereby allowing Coker to cut ties between defendant BELLATOR and McCann. Plaintiff was required to arrange fights between McGann’s fighters and opponents who would convincingly defeat them. Such outcomes would then enable Coker to have a convenient pretext to terminate McGann’s fighters’ promotional contracts with defendant BELLATOR. Such collusive matches were tantamount to fight fixing and constituted a fraud on ticket buyers, fight patrons, television viewers, advertisers, and the public at large, as well as McGann and the professional fighters he managed.
Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) whistleblowers provisions, employees in privately held subsidiaries of publicly traded companies who assist in an investigation into an employer’s violation of SOX are protected from employer retaliation (18 U.S.C. 1513(e) and 1514A(a)). This conduct also violates California Business and Professions Code 17500 which proscribes misleading statements concerning professional services.
In late 2014 and early 2015, a close friend of Coker, Mike Kogan, was hired by defendant BELLATOR in an executive capacity. Plaintiff knew that Kogan represented numerous mixed martial arts fighters, many of whom were under professional agreements with defendant BELLATOR. Plaintiff is informed and believes and thereon alleges that Kogan was paid management commissions for fighters he represented in bouts that occurred with defendant BELLATOR. This was a serious conflict of interest in violation of California Business and Professions Code 18878, 18897.27, 18897.47, as well as California Code of Regulations, Title 4, section 243. Plaintiff, aware of and concerned about this glaring conflict of interest that existed when an executive of defendant BELLATOR also managed fighters competing for defendant BELLATOR, expressed his strong concerns regarding these conflicts to Chou. Chou responded, “leave it alone, he’s on our team.”
PLAINTIFF’S COMMUNICATIONS REGARDING AN EMPLOYEE OF DEFENDANT BELLATOR DRIVING ON A SUSPENDED LICENSE:
In June of 2014, plaintiff spoke to Coker and Chou regarding an employee of defendant BELLATOR who was continuing to drive defendant BELLATOR’s owned and branded transport vans to transport BELLATOR fighters, fight managers, commission officials and other employees of defendant BELLATOR to and from airports and to various BELLATOR event related locations even though his driver’s license had been suspended due to a DUI. When plaintiff noted that the employee had not stopped driving, he brought the problem again to Coker’s attention. Coker told plaintiff to “stop making waves” and “just do your job.”
PLAINTIFF’S STRESS-RELATED MEDICAL LEAVE AND TERMINATION:
From September of 2014 through April of 2015, plaintiff experienced increasing anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mental and emotional distress as a result of Coker and Chou’s refusal to follow applicable laws and regulations and by requiring plaintiff to engage in illegal practices as a condition of keeping his job.
On April 10, 2015, following the Bellator 136 event at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, California, plaintiff suffered an anxiety attack which resulted in emergency care at a hospital. Plaintiff was medicated and diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. Thereafter he was placed on an extended medical leave, prescribed psychoactive medications, and underwent therapy with a physician.
Due to his consequent loss in income, plaintiff was forced from his rented home into a small apartment. On March 10, 2016, plaintiff was cleared to return to work without restrictions. By letter of March 17, 2016, plaintiff was advised of his termination and that his job was no longer available.
FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION
(Wrongful Termination Based on Public Policy Against Defendants BELLATOR and VIACOM)
On March 17, 2016, defendants BELLATOR and VIACOM wrongfully terminated plaintiff in violation of a substantial and fundamental public policy, in that defendant BELLATOR, a wholly owned subsidiary controlled by defendant VIACOM, engaged in conduct that required plaintiff to participate in and authorize violations of statutory law based on the Acts and Statutes cited at paragraphs 12 through 20 above. The wrongful conduct of defendants BELLATOR and VIACOM created such intolerable working conditions for plaintiff that plaintiff was forced to take an extended medical leave. When plaintiff tried to return from such medical leave, he was terminated. Plaintiff was accordingly wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy.
As a direct and proximate result of said wrongful termination, plaintiff sustained economic damages for past and future loss of earnings and benefits, according to proof.
As a further direct and proximate result of said wrongful termination, plaintiff sustained general damages for severe mental and emotional distress.
Defendants BELLATOR and VIACOM acted with malice and oppression toward plaintiff and with conscious and wanton disregard of plaintiff’s rights, and defendants BELLATOR and VIACOM should therefore be assessed punitive and exemplary damages in sums sufficient to punish them and set an example in view of their respective financial conditions.
WHEREFORE plaintiff prays judgment against defendants as follows:
1. For economic damages, according to proof;
2. For general damages, according to proof;
3. For punitive damages, according to proof;
4. For costs of suit incurred; and,
5. For such further relief as the Court deems proper.
Dated: May 24, 2016
WILLIAM M. CROSBY
Attorney for Plaintiff ZACHERY LIGHT