Lauer attorneys: Give him $30 million -- or else

Did NBC have the right to fire Matt Lauer? In a normal at-will employment relationship, the answer would be obvious, but the Matt Lauers of this world do not work on an at-will basis. Page Six reports that Lauer’s attorneys want him paid through the end of his contract, which would require NBC to cough up a whole lotta money for a man who just gave them a black eye and a hole in their morning line-up:

Lawyers for Matt Lauer are working on landing the shamed anchor a $30 million golden sexual parachute following his NBC firing.

Sources close to the disgraced newsman say his team is working on a plan to get him paid through the remainder of his $20 million a year contract – which still has a year and a half to run.

A source close to Lauer’s team said, “They are currently looking at his contract and determining whether the claims against him, which clearly would affect any moral clause in his contract and his ensuing termination would cut off his contractual rights to be paid through to the end of his contract.”

The question will center on just how well Lauer and NBC negotiated any “morals clause” that might exist in the contract. Usually, these high-profile and large-money contracts include language that nullifies the contract in case of egregious conduct that becomes public knowledge. That’s usually the case, although Harvey Weinstein’s contract reportedly contained language that allowed him to pay “fines” to board members when harassment settlements got paid — essentially incentivizing them to keep the Harv around.

In most cases, though, the language exists to allow the employer to protect the reputation of the organization. That, of course, is the same reason that NBC would have tried quashing any public release of Lauer’s activities. That might come into play if Lauer’s attorneys decide to adopt a scorched-earth strategy; they could argue that NBC knew full well what was going on and had essentially waived any application of the morals clause. And there is evidence that this is the case, Emily Smith also writes:

“Everybody at NBC knew about Matt Lauer’s sexually inappropriate behavior — and knew not to talk about it,” a current “Today” show staffer said.

“Women did complain about his behavior, and there were a lot of closed-door meetings before it was all brushed under the carpet.” …

“The most horrible thing was that he made it clear that if they ever spoke out or crossed him, they would be fired from the show, negative stories leaked about them, and their careers would be destroyed,” the source said.

“So it is insulting to see the pretend shock on the faces of the people at ‘Today’ after Lauer was fired. This is just theatrics.”

Compare that to the posterior-covering statement issued by Andrew Lack when Lauer got fired, which insisted that nothing had ever come to their attention before Monday. Assuming Lauer’s attorneys decide that their client has no reputation worth rebuilding, they could take NBC to court, demand access to their internal records through discovery, and begin deposing all of these people on the inside. They might even start asking questions about editorial decisions that might be related to keeping the lid on Lauer’s escapades — such as the very strange refusal to run what now appears to be a Pulitzer-worthy exposé of Weinstein by their own high-priced reporter, Ronan Farrow.

Of course, all that would only cement Lauer’s reputation as one of the leading pigs of male American media stars, but … that’s probably irreversible now anyway. He’s probably not going to make $30 million or anything close to it for the rest of his life, so the time to cash out is now. Would it be worth $30 million or a large chunk thereof to Lack and Comcast to keep the Lauer era under wraps? Maaaaayyyyyybeeeeeeee.

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