Brian Williams’ Contract Could Hang on the Morality Clause Issue

News broke this week that following NBC News’ imposition of a six month suspension on its anchor, Brian Williams, the network was exploring its options in relation to him, including his termination. Such a move would be predicated on Williams’ contract containing what is commonly termed a “morality” clause.

Morality clauses have become endemic in all manner of contracts in the entertainment, media, and sports worlds. At their core, they allow a party to terminate the agreement in question when certain acts are committed. Negotiations among the parties to such an agreement usually center on exactly what acts would be considered so heinous as to warrant terminating the agreement. These clauses can range from requiring literally the conviction for a felony as grounds to terminate to something as nebulous as violating prevailing moral standards of the community.

Such clauses have been media fodder the past decade as athletes ranging from Kobe Bryant to Tiger Woods to Lance Armstrong have seen their endorsement deals exited through the trigger of such a clause. Whether the balance of such agreements were still payable obviously depends upon the wording of these clauses, as the parties typically negotiate these options as well in such agreements.

According to published reports, NBC News’ employment agreements contain a “public morals” clause which allows the company to terminate the employee if he/she “bring himself into public disrepute, contempt, scandal, or ridicule, or which justifiably shocks, insults, or offends a significant portion of the community.”

The $10 million question, the value of Williams deal with NBC, then becomes, did his attributed exaggerations of certain events, rise to the level of triggering such language? We shall soon see.