The fact that Don Cherry of all people is telling anyone what to wear is appalling. More appalling however, is his targeting of immigrants and people of colour in a rant on national television. On Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry scolded immigrants for the lack of poppies he sees in the streets of downtown Toronto.

“You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price” Cherry said.

Naturally, in this day of social media justice, #FireDonCherry went viral with viewers calling for the immediate termination of Cherry. By Monday afternoon, Sportsnet issued a statement informing its viewers that it had “been decided that it is the right time for Don Cherry to step down.”

Should Cherry’s comments have resulted in his termination? 

Generally, the law recognizes an employer’s right to terminate an employee (even a unionized one) for cause which includes misconduct. Large broadcasting companies like Sportsnet and Rogers Media have and uphold clear Codes of Conduct and implement anti-discrimination policies for all their employees. Cherry made discriminatory comments on national television reaching an audience of millions. Companies like Sportsnet, have a high degree of responsibility to ensure their employees are acting responsibly, particularly in the public sphere. And let’s face it, if an employee is saying such comments publicly, how can he or she be trusted to have a different perception internally around other employees who may be immigrants or people of colour? Courts or arbitrators would likely adjudge that what Cherry said as so reprehensible and egregious as to be antithetical to Sportsnet’s brand and justifies terminating him for misconduct without notice or wrongful dismissal damages.

On the other hand, Cherry is 85-years-old, had been employed on Hockey Night in Canada for about four decades and built a brand based on his knack for egregious comments, that for the most part were condoned for the ratings they brought in. You can anticipate what arguments Cherry will make.

Nonetheless, on the tail of a Raptors championship that brought Canadians of all backgrounds, colours and beliefs together and at a time when a Sikh man in a turban leads a national political party in Canada, Cherry’s conduct detrimentally affects the reputation of Sportsnet, making his continued employment untenable. After all, McDonald’s is garnering praise for its termination of its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, this same weekend for violating the company’s non-fraternizing policy. In the wake of #MeToo, companies have tightened up their sexual harassment policies. Surely, anti-discrimination policies and the protection of human rights are just as important.

Brand damaging conduct by senior employees increasingly has been held to be cause for discharge by Canadian courts.

Hockey Night in Canada will start looking a little different. Given some of those blazers, that’s not such a bad thing.

Author: Zoya Alam