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NFL team faces bullying investigation

Indianapolis Colts fans might have heard that a harassment grievance filed by NFL player Jonathan Martin against teammate Richie Incognito has led to a full-out legal investigation into bullying in the Miami Dolphins's organization. Incognito was suspended for his conduct when evidence was of the harassment was revealed on Nov. 3. Race discrimination could become the basis of a lawsuit as a result of an alleged threatening voicemail that Martin received from Incognito, who had a history of fighting with teammates and had been dismissed from two college and one NFL team before going to the Dolphins. The ensuing investigation raises questions about NFL team's histories of hazing and bullying.

The outside lawyer conducting the investigation has been looking into the behavior of Incognito, the coach and his assistants. Based on the results of the investigation, the NFL could take disciplinary actions against different members of the Miami Dolphins or impose an anti-hazing policy. The Dolphins organization could be held liable if the lawyer is able to find that they knew of the incidents.

Some teams, such as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, have implemented zero-tolerance policies for bullying. The NBA has already developed a league-wide non-bullying and hazing policy. Under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, the league and teams develop their own standards for conduct but have to abide by federal laws on discrimination and harassment.

Sexual harassment, age harassment, religious harassment and other forms of bullying can quality as unlawful discrimination under federal law. A lawyer who has handled different types of workplace discrimination cases may be able to help a client to find witnesses and gather official documents, texts, emails and phone messages in order to prove workplace discrimination, since without such evidence the situation may be difficult to prove.

Source: USA Today, "Stakes high for Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito, others in Dolphins bullying investigation", Tom Pelissero, November 15, 2013

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