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Sorry for the vague title, but the situation is too complicated to sum up into a short blurb.

Among my hobbies, I play the card game Magic: The Gathering, and recently there was a high profile story about a professional Magic player (in that his day job is literally just playing Magic, mostly streaming) who got into some legal trouble with the company. If you would like additional context on what I'm about to present, Google the name "Owen Turtenwald". I'm a bit curious about how his situation would play out; I've read various Reddit posts and so on on the topic, but I'm interested in thoughts of people who actually know what they're talking about rather than Reddit randoms.

My understanding of the facts of the case are as follows:

  • There is a girl named Mary Rourke who seems to (best I can tell from reading Reddit/Twitter/etc) have had some sort of sexual relationship with Owen.

  • Mary accused Owen of sexual assault (or harassment, or something of that nature), without proof (or at least without proof in public; perhaps she has proof and has shown it to people on a need-to-know basis, but at least in the public realm there is no proof)

  • Owen was licensed by Wizards of the Coast LLC (WotC), a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc, as a member of the "Magic Pro League" (MPL), which in addition to the prestige of that association also has a very sizable monetary value (and additional real monetary value providing Owen does some other things which he can opt into if he wants). You can Google for the details of precisely what the deal is, but the bare minimum is a $75,000 USD/year contract for playing Magic in its various digital forms on stream regularly, plus additional perks.

  • Due to the accusations by Mary, WotC terminated Owen's contract as a member of the MPL, and furthermore I believe Owen has been banned from playing Magic at most high-profile events (I am not sure of that last part). Keep in mind this is Owen's full-time job, he's not by any means a "casual" player.

  • As of the moment, Mary hasn't presented any evidence to back up her claims against Owen (as far as I know), it's simply a he-said-she-said situation.

  • Nobody except Mary in this situation has formally accused Owen of any misconduct. Neither Hasbro nor WotC has made an official public statement on the matter whatsoever except to state the consequences for Owen (e.g. expulsion from the MPL)

  • Apparently (I read on Reddit), WotC presented Owen with a settlement agreement including damages for defamation. None of the negative consequences of the ordeal (e.g. expulsion from the MPL) were reversed.

Question: Given the above situation (and whatever additional information you can find on Google which I may have missed in my assessment), if Owen were to tell WotC to take their settlement offer and shove it, what might be the legal consequences for WotC/Hasbro? Would Owen be able to sue them, and on what grounds? What would be required of WotC/Hasbro to defend themselves from such a lawsuit? What might be Mary's responsibility in all of this?

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    Nice but undeserved that you think we know what we’re talking about – Dale M Jul 18 at 21:05
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Would Owen be able to sue them, and on what grounds?

Knowing WotC/Hasbro's Terms & Conditions applicable to Owen is crucial. For instance, the T&C might provide that WotC/Hasbro has full discretion in determining whether to continue allowing a player to participate. In that case, Owen is unlikely to obtain any relief [in court] from WotC/Hasbro regardless of his innocence. His only option would be to bring the public's attention to WotC/Hasbro's disregard of the truth & fairness.

By contrast, if the T&C are amenable to a duty of due diligence on WotC/Hasbro's part, Owen might sue for negligence and breach of contract, especially if WotC/Hasbro refuses to restore Owen's status once Mary's defamatory falsehoods have been disproved.

Regardless of the existence of due diligence or discretion, an entity with a minimum of decency would investigate accusations prior to taking adverse action (many supposedly "reputable" institutions such as universities and churches lack that minimum of decency, though).

Apparently (I read on Reddit), WotC presented Owen with a settlement agreement including damages for defamation.

There must be some confusion in that statement. Since WotC is not the accuser and [per your description] has made no statements on the matter, its interest in preempting a civil action for other's defamatory falsehoods is odd. Something like that would be inept on WotC's part insofar as it conveys the image of a company that promotes impunity/leniency on repugnant conduct (here, defamation).

What might be Mary's responsibility in all of this?

In line with the other answer, the availability of relief under defamation law depends on whether Owen is considered a public figure, a limited public figure, or neither.

That matter aside, the defamatory falsehoods would constitute defamation per se if the falsely imputed conduct is considered an act of moral turpitude and/or classified as a serious crime (e.g., a felony) in the jurisdiction where defamation took place. Defamation per se leads to an award if actual malice is proved.

Because Owen has incurred palpable losses as a result of the accusations (for the sake of argument, let's assume here that the accusations are false), that would also constitute defamation with special damages. This means that the defamer would have to pay him any income he would otherwise have obtained. Some or many jurisdictions also grant attorney fees to the plaintiff who prevails in a defamation lawsuit. For instance, see here.

Depending on the gravity of the defamatory falsehoods, the defamer might be also face criminal charges, although I am unaware of whether that type of offenses is prosecuted at all.

Edited to add ...

Your comment reminds me that that (again, if Mary's accusations are false), WotC could be liable for tortious interference with contract/relationship with respect to Owen's contracts or relations elsewhere which (1) WotC knew or should have known Owen had with third parties, and (2) those relations are severed insofar as they depend or are conditional on Owen's status with WotC.

For instance, any history of bias on WotC's part (such as bias against heterosexual white males, apropos of your remark) might amount to one of the prima facie elements of tortious interference: namely, the intentional and unjustified interference with the business relationship or procurement of the contract's breach (Howard v. Murray, 184 So.3d 1155, 1166 (2016) lists the prima facie elements of tortious interference).

Thus, although WotC's sole act of banning Owen is not cognizable as defamation or endorsement of other's defamatory falsehoods, certain combination(s) of factual circumstances of WotC's decision making could still make the company liable to the extent (if any) that it triggered or contributed to impairing Owen's standing with third parties.

  • Thanks for the in-depth answer! Regarding your second point, I have very limited information beyond what I read on Reddit, but I believe the tacit implication that Owen did something wrong by firing him from the MPL among these accusations would be equivalent to defamation? Maybe? I have no idea. FWIW though, WotC has a history of promoting leniency/impunity on repugnant conduct against a certain portion of its customer base (specifically heterosexual white males of which Owen is one), so such an image would not be entirely undeserved and would be consistent with their MO. – Ertai87 Jul 19 at 16:37
  • @Ertai87 The sole act of banning Owen is not cognizable as defamation. WotC's decision might have been prompted by legitimate interests, such as avoiding a controversial position (notwithstanding that WotC should have been fair and diligent toward Owen: see my remark on institutional decency). However, your mention of WotC's history of bias makes me think that WotC could be liable for tortious interference under certain circumstances. Hence, I just edited my answer to elaborate on that issue. – Iñaki Viggers Jul 19 at 21:13
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If Owen accepts the offer, he probably would not be able to sue them for breach of contract (i.e. that would be a fundamental condition in the settlement offer). If he declines the offer, there are no immediate consequences for WotC, but he would be free to sue them. Most likely, there is some "behavior" clause in his contract which allows WotC to terminate the contract; it might be cheaper to offer him money to get him to waive any right to sue. WotC could point to that clause and argue that the alleged behavior probably happened, so he breached the contract. It just depends on what is in the contract, and what the facts of the case are.

Mary might get sued for defamation. As a public figure, the standard for defamation is high: did she have actual malice in making the statement. So again, it depends on what she said. It's not clear whether the assertion "Owen sexually harrassed me" refers to a specific-enough fact that she could be said to have known that the statement is false. "Rape" is a sufficiently specific term that there is a matter of fact involved.

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