Indeed, Hiatt makes several damning allegations in her complaint including that she left the World Poker Tour because of harassment by WPT representatives and that Lipscomb himself called NBC to say they can’t have Hiatt and has been telling people he "owns Hiatt in poker."
First, on reasons for her leaving, which up until now she merely stated were personal, Hiatt claims that the World Poker Tour became a hostile work environment after she formally complained to them that a brother of a WPT exec was making defamatory statements about her. In the complaint she alleges:
"During the production of World Poker Tour in early 2005, [Hiatt] became aware that defamatory statements were being made about her and her husband by the brother of a senior executive of WPT. Plaintiff’s counsel drafted and sent on February 10, 2005 a letter demanding that the brother of the WPT Executive cease and desist from communicating further false and defamatory statements. After this letter was delivered, Plaintiff began experiencing harassment and a deliberate attempt by WPT representatives to make her extremely uncomfortable during production of World Poker Tour episodes. The conduct of WPT and its representatives created a hostile work environment."
So in the Spring of 2005, Hiatt couldn’t take this "hostile work environment" any longer and notified Lipscomb that she wanted out (word we have is this took place at the Bay 101 with Hiatt walking out of the meeting crying).
As part of her departure, the parties began negotiating a written release and settlement that would spell out the terms of Hiatt leaving the WPT. Although a draft was prepared, Hiatt claims she never "reviewed in detail or commented on any draft" of the agreement because
A little more than a year later in the Summer of 2006,
Hiatt also claims that Lipscomb has been going around telling people that the WPT "owns Hiatt in poker." Why would Lipscomb say something like this, other than to be a dickhead? Maybe because
Which would help explain why Lipscomb may want to hold Hiatt to the "exclusivity/non-compete" clause in the draft release, which broadly restricts Hiatt from engaging in any "Poker Related Activity" from the time the agreement was signed until June 19, 2009.
As we mentioned yesterday, a cursory review of California law seems to suggest that such a broad clause is void and against public policy. By statute, "every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void." Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Sec. 16600.
And regardless if the clause is enforceable, there may not even be a contract in the first place, as Hiatt claims she never reviewed or signed the agreement at issue.
At risk of sacrificing some journalistic integrity, we hope the courts recognize the "unenforceable" nature of Hiatt’s non-compete so she can go back on air doing what she does best. Hiatt was a part of the fabric of the poker explosion. She belongs on TV commenting on the game we love, because most everyone loves the job she does.
However, this whole ordeal raises an important question: How in the world did the WPT become successful in the first place? They’ve achieved some level of success in poker almost in spite of themselves.
When the WPT debuted in 2003, they had the opportunity to eclipse the WSOP and revolutionize the way poker was viewed and organized. They could’ve formed a tour like the PGA (which they’re finally getting around to, but as the PPT)–or set up a "league" like the NBA–partnered with the players, marketed the players (with the player’s permission), and been poker’s financial and cultural epicenter.
But they blew it.
The WSOP is still what gets the headlines and what the majority of poker players really look forward to each year.
And as is the case with most organizations, ineptitude trickles from the top down.
So maybe before
The WPT desperately needs an image makeover. By granting Hiatt the opportunity to continue working in poker, it may serve as a reminder of at least one of the reasons why the public fell in love with the WPT in the first place, while showing people and players in the industry that WPT does not think that they are above the game.