Lawsuit Reveals Why Hiatt Left WPT and Other Things Steve Lipscomb Doesn’t Want You to Know

ShanavsteveWhen we got the inside word three weeks ago that Steve Lipscomb was Peacock-blocking Shana Hiatt from taking a gig with NBC, we were unable to get a comment from Hiatt herself, let alone from anyone at WPT or NBC.

But with the lawsuit she dropped yesterday, Hiatt is no longer silent, and she’s ready to take the WPT to task.

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 the WPT had already hired her replacement. In short, she never signed any such agreement.

A little more than a year later in the Summer of 2006, Hiatt was approached by NBC for two poker-related shows–Poker After Dark and Heads Up Poker Championship–and at this time, she alleges Steve Lipscomb personally contacted NBC to tell them that she is prohibited from working for NBC on any poker-related television show because "WPT contractually controls Plaintiff’s rights."

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 the WPT is about to start airing season 1 episodes in Asia, and a whole bunch of short guys with the last name Nyguen will be turning Japanese over the ex-hostess the same way American audiences did.

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 Steve Lipscomb goes around creating more situations that drum up negative press for the game of poker, he should look at himself and his organization in the proverbial mirror. Poker existed long before the WPT. The WPT may have created a number of poker stars (including Hiatt), but if the WPT were to go away (and as poorly managed and unprofitable as they are, it’s not like this is an impossibility one day), poker surely would not.

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.

 

8 Responses

  1. Drizztdj

    September 25, 2006 8:41 am, Reply

    What exactly is the WPT gaining with this?
    I think Lipscomb needs to recheck his ego, before potentinally tanking what is/used to be a great poker engine to the masses.

  2. wilson

    September 25, 2006 7:13 pm, Reply

    You’re right. This is all about steve’s ego and he’s picked a losing battle and he’s holding back someone the majority of players want to see back at work on tv. It doesn’t make sense. He must have the same friends as jamie gold.

  3. wilson

    September 25, 2006 7:24 pm, Reply

    You’re right. This is all about steve’s ego and he’s picked a losing battle and he’s holding back someone the majority of players want to see back at work on tv. It doesn’t make sense. He must have the same friends as jamie gold.

  4. tommy

    September 26, 2006 11:59 am, Reply

    i havent seen on person siding with the WPT here or on any of the forums. i wonder if lipscomb is second guessing himself right now.

  5. jason

    September 26, 2006 2:35 pm, Reply

    You guys ran with the Shana story almost a month ago and no one else did anything on it…particularly CardPlayer…what kind of Poker Authority does that make them?

  6. olivert

    September 28, 2006 10:52 pm, Reply

    Memo to those who haven’t figured out the following by now:
    1. WPTE/Steve Lipscomb has decided to “bet the farm” on CHINA, by re-positioning WPTE as an “online gaming” business targeting Chinese-speaking markets when it relaunches in the 3rd quarter of 2007, LONG after the North American, European, and Australian poker markets saturate.
    2. It is to WPTE’s advantage to lobby the U.S. Congress to curtail online gaming so that WPTE’s online poker competitors, notably WPTE’s arch nemesis TiltWare (Full Tilt Poker), will have their “air supply” of U.S.-based online gaming revenue effectively “choked off”, so that the likes of TiltWare and PartyGaming won’t have access to money to continue to buy TV time in the U.S. to air TV poker.
    WPTE has one last chance to achieve TOTAL GLOBAL DOMINATION of the poker industry. It is a very long shot, but it can’t be dismissed:
    1. WPTE allies with Macau gaming kingpin Stanley Ho and his daughters in order to lobby China for an exclusive online gaming license.
    2. WPTE lobbies China to ban China-based poker players from traveling abroad to compete in any land-based poker tournament other than the WPT World Championship, which will move from the Bellagio to the MGM Grand Macau.
    3. WPTE successfully lobbies the U.S. Congress to curtail online gaming so that WPTE’s online gaming competitors will have their “air supply” of U.S.-based online gaming revenue “choked off”.
    The net effect: WPTE will control over 50% of the global online poker revenue by the year 2015.

  7. Charles

    January 29, 2007 5:09 am, Reply

    Shana Hiatt was a joy to watch on the WPT. Did you know that her husband is Vince Van Patten’s brother? I wonder how this friction has affected Vince’s relationship with the bloated ego executives at WPT? Vince and Mike Sexton do an outstanding job on the WPT, but I miss Shana.

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