Compliance Programs are Starting to Take Root Within MLB



In the wake of a months-long investigation by Major League Baseball (MLB) of allegations of sexual harassment against Los Angeles Angels’ pitching coach Mickey Callaway, MLB has taken steps to shore-up its “compliance program.” While neither MLB nor its member organizations have formally announced the actual formation of compliance and ethics programs, steps have been taken by MLB and some teams which closely resemble the initial development of such initiatives. According to a recent report by Jack Harris of the LA Times, MLB has “updated its workplace code of conduct pertaining to sexual harassment and discrimination, introducing a new third-party hotline for reporting violations and required anti-harassment and discrimination training for executives during spring training.”


The investigation of Callaway resulted in MLB’s placing him on baseball’s restricted list for two seasons. Placement on this ineligible list forbids Callaway from employment with MLB or any affiliated major or minor league teams. Following the 2022 season at the earliest, Callaway is eligible for reinstatement.


The MLB investigation spanned Callaway’s positions not just with the Angels, but earlier employment as manager of the New York Mets and pitching coach with the Cleveland Indians. According to a report earlier this year by The Athletic, allegations against him personally revolved around reports by “five women in the sports media industry who anonymously accused him of making inappropriate advances towards them, including comments on their appearance, sending unsolicited shirtless photos of himself, and in one instance, requesting nude photos in return.”


While Callaway initially denied these reports, he later released a statement of apology while expressing his hopefulness that he can return to baseball at some point in he future. In the statement released by a spokesperson, Callaway said, “I apologize to the women who shared with investigators any interaction that made them feel uncomfortable. To be clear, I never intended to make anyone feel this way and didn’t understand that these interactions might do that or violate MLB policies. However, those are my own blind spots, and I take responsibility for the consequences.”


Teams have followed MLB’s lead. For example, MLB’s report prompted Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan to issue a statement that the team has “contracted an external expert with extensive experience related to workplace culture and reporting practices to improve the club’s handling of matters related to harassment in the workplace.” In a subsequent Zoom call with reporters, Indians’ team president Chris Antonetti expressed regret that the team did not do a better job to “to foster a workplace where employees could feel comfortable reporting instances of harassment to management.” Antonetti went on, “what keeps me up at night is thinking about the fact that these behaviors happened in our environment and these women experienced what they experienced and didn’t feel comfortable surfacing and reporting them… so I want to make sure we do everything we can to create a better environment moving forward.”


For any organization, the establishment of a formal compliance and ethics program is not a quick or easy fix. However, the process of developing programs is at least taking root within MLB and several of its member organizations. The action has jump started with the Callaway investigation serving as a risk assessment step, with the initial focus of identifying problems with sexual harassment. Thereafter, MLB took steps in the right direction by updating its code of conduct, establishing a hotline to facilitate anonymous reporting of wrongdoing, and expanding and improving training. Clearly, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and a growing number of team owners and executives are on the right track towards reducing the serious problems which detract from the appeal of the sport.

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