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Frank McCourt claims wife Jamie's behavior was insubordinate, inappropriate

Dodgers owner levels those charges against his estranged spouse in a letter firing her as the team's chief executive.

October 24, 2009|Bill Shaikin

As Jamie McCourt vanished from the Dodgers' website, Frank McCourt charged his estranged wife with insubordination and inappropriate behavior in a letter firing her as the team's chief executive.

The letter, signed by Frank McCourt on letterhead that identifies him as the Dodgers' owner, advises Jamie McCourt to contact team human relations personnel to arrange "a time and date to gather your personal belongings." The letter is dated Wednesday, the day the Dodgers were eliminated from the National League Championship Series in Philadelphia.

Jamie McCourt, who considers herself a co-owner of the team, is expected to initiate legal proceedings next week. The grounds for dismissal, as set forth by Frank McCourt in his termination letter, could lay the groundwork for part of his defense, experts said.

The letter charges Jamie McCourt with "insubordination, non-responsiveness, failure to follow procedures, and inappropriate behavior with a direct subordinate."

"I will tell the judge what I dispute and don't dispute," said Dennis Wasser, the attorney for Jamie McCourt. "I don't want to try this in the press."

The letter was obtained and posted online Friday by tmz.com.

Wasser confirmed its authenticity to The Times. Neither he nor Marshall Grossman, the attorney for Frank McCourt, would comment on its contents.

By Friday, the day after the firing became public, the Dodgers had removed Jamie McCourt's name from the staff directory posted online and taken down her biography.

They also had eliminated the section devoted to one of Jamie McCourt's treasured community initiatives, an outreach program that "brings women closer to the game, brings the game closer to women's lifestyles and helps inspire women to use their voices," according to her biography in the Dodgers' media guide. The Web page for the Women's Initiatives Network, or WIN, now redirects readers to the Dodgers' community relations home page.

The Dodgers expect to start a new women's program next year, spokesman Josh Rawitch said.

Frank McCourt's letter refers to the law that permits a company to fire an employee not under contract at any time, without saying why.

"If there is no contract, you don't need good cause," said Michael Waterstone, employment law professor at Loyola Law School.

Why, then, would Frank McCourt explicitly cite several causes for the dismissal in the letter?

"It could be one of two reasons," Waterstone said. "One could be emotions that have nothing to do with legal issues."

The other, he said, could be an anticipation that Jamie McCourt might argue she had an oral contract, a reasonable expectation that a husband and wife working together and presenting themselves as the top executives of the club would not have a written contract between them.

"He's moving the first chess piece to respond to that," Waterstone said.

Frank McCourt claims he is the sole owner of the Dodgers. If Jamie McCourt can establish in court that she is a co-owner of the team and not an employee, Waterstone said, then issues surrounding when and how an employer can fire an employee might not be relevant.

The McCourts announced their separation Oct. 14, one week before the termination letter.

Angela Reddock, a Los Angeles employment lawyer, said that timing could raise questions if Frank McCourt cites those causes for dismissal in his defense.

"If she was having those issues, why wasn't she terminated before?" Reddock said. "What makes it interesting is the overlay of pending divorce."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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