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Did Rogers hit a foul ball with sports reporter?

By Jeffrey R. Smith (

By now, many fans of baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays have heard of the strange disappearance — for a weekend — of Mike Wilner, a sports commentator and reporter who covers the Blue Jays for Toronto-based sports radio station The Fan 590.

Both the radio station and the baseball club are owned by Rogers Communications. While neither the Blue Jays, Wilner nor Rogers have stated this was a suspension, many critics say "if it looks like a duck…"

Suspicions arose after Wilner had a minor disagreement with Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. Wilner and Gaston have had some dust ups in the past, much of it stemming from Wilner’s frequent criticism on his radio show of Gaston’s managerial moves. During Gaston’s daily pre-game media scrum on June 2, Wilner asked him some pointed questions about some decisions he made in the previous night’s game. Gaston didn’t like the line of questioning and, after some gruff answers and awkward silences, he changed the subject.

Wilner later posted on his blog that Gaston had “belittled” him. Two days later, Wilner was mysteriously absent, saying only he was taking the weekend off.

The unexpected sequence of events drew many comments, particularly from those concerned about journalistic integrity. Many, including the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, felt this was an attempt to censor Wilner. However, this situation also has an angle employers should be wary of.

Putting aside the issues of journalistic integrity and possible censorship, this appears to be a situation where an employee of Rogers was doing his job as a reporter and commentator and was disciplined for it. Though Gaston and the Blue Jays denied any role in Wilner''s time off, was someone at Rogers was sending a message that they didn’t want one part of the company, the Blue Jays, cast in a negative light?

If this kind of situation happens at an employer, it should tread carefully. If something an employee does is looked at unfavourably, the employer should take a close look at the circumstances. Even if the employee is guilty of legitimate misconduct, the employer often has to give her a warning before implementing discipline. And things could get ugly if the employee inadvertently stepped on somebody’s toes while simply performing her job duties.

If Wilner was suspended, is it justified? Who’s liable for unjust discipline when the order comes down from the parent company? And what if Wilner’s bosses at the station disagreed with Rogers and refused to suspend him because they felt he was just doing his job? Could Rogers discipline them for insubordination?

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. For more information, visit

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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