Bellator MMA sued for wrongful termination
May 25, 2016
Zachery Light has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Bellator MMA and Viacom citing wrongful termination based on public policy. Light, a former MMA fighter and employee of Bellator, claims various wrongdoings while working under Scott Coker.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Light’s attorney, William Crosby.
Light, a former amateur wrestler and MMA fighter, was hired by Bellator and worked under Bjorn Rebney. He became Bellator’s Talent Development Manager. The lawsuit states he was soon promoted to Talent Development Director. He was praised for his work and “received the highest ranking on his annual reviews.”
The Complaint notes a shift of business culture when Viacom acquired Bellator and Scott Coker took over.
Light alleges that in September 2015, he became aware of a number of instances in which Bellator “failed to observe and knowingly disobeyed laws enacted to protect the health and safety” of MMA fighters. Notably, the California law requiring a medical clearance examination by a licensed physician for participants in a MMA fight. Light claimed that “a reliable source” at Bellator 126 noted that Ryan Martinez’ blood and eye medicals that were submitted to the state of Arizona “were admittedly forged.” Martinez lost his fight to Nick Rossborough.
At Bellator 131 in San Diego, Light learned from “reliable sources” that “a number of fighters on the card had submitted California state-required medicals” by Adam Rendon. Rendon, the lawsuit claims, was not a licensed physician and this was in violation of California law. Bellator 131 was the first “tentpole” event of the Coker-era which featured Stephan Bonnar fighting Tito Ortiz.
The lawsuit claims that Light talked to Rich Chou, Bellator’s Vice President of Talent, prior to Bellator 126. Chou indicated to Light that he would follow up but when he did not here from Chou he approached Scott Coker. According to the Complaint, “Coker told plaintiff (Light) “to do what Chou told you to do,” without addressing these issues.” Light went back to Chou who, according to the lawsuit, stated he would be terminated if he (Light) “kept pushing the issue.”
Light went back to Coker to question about Rendon. According to the Complaint, Coker told plaintiff, “a lot of people at Bellator are going to lose their jobs next week. Do you want to keep yours?”
In addition, the Complaint claims that Coker pressured Light into promoting collusive fights in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The lawsuit alleges that Coker disliked manager Anthony McGann. Rampage Jackson and Cheick Kongo were managed by McGann at the time and the Complaint claims that Light was instructed to “convince Kongo to fire McGann as his manager.” Light was influenced by Coker to have Kongo fire McGann and have him sign a new promotion agreement or he (Light) would be fired.
Light was instructed to arrange fights for McGann-managed fighters under contract in Bellator with opponents “who would convincingly defeat them.” This would apparently allow Coker the pretext to cut ties with McGann and his fighters. The lawsuit makes a point of indicating that “[s]uch collusive matches were tantamount to fight fixing…”
Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act whistleblower provisions, employees in privately held subsidiaries of publicly traded companies who assist in an investigation into an employer’s violation are protected from employer retaliation. Under the California Business and Professions Code, there is a similar provision claimed by Light.
Light also indicates that in “late 2014 and early 2015,” Mike Kogan was hired by Bellator in an executive capacity. Kogan, who Light alleges is a “close friend” of Coker claims that Kogan was “paid management commissions for fighters he represented in bouts that occurred with defendant Bellator.” This would be a “serious conflict of interest” and violation of California law.
The lawsuit states that due to stress-related to Coker and Chou refusing to follow laws and regulations and “requiring plaintiff to engage in illegal practices as a condition of keeping his job,” Light suffered an anxiety attack. The health scare occurred on April 10, 2015 after Bellator 136 on the campus of UC Irvine. He was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. Light had to take an extended medical leave. He was cleared to return to work without restrictions on March 10, 2016 but was terminated on March 17, 2017 via a letter. He was advised that “his job was no longer available.”
This will be an interesting case as it goes forward. Since it was filed just yesterday, there’s still a lot to digest about the claims. As with many wrongful termination lawsuits, the allegations are salacious and may or may not be true. One would expect Bellator to deny the claims and file a motion to dismiss – none of which is earth-shattering. Obviously, the claims present a public relations issue as the company in support of amending the Ali Act to include MMA fighters are accused of doing things that oppose the protections claimed in the Ali Act. Also, the conflict between promoter and manager rears its head in another MMA promotion. We shall see about the veracity of the claims and how will Bellator address them.
MMA Payout will continue to follow.