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Fired Over Fantasy Football: The Unfortunate Case of Cameron Pettigrew

Dec 17, 2009 – 8:30 AM
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Tom Herrera

Tom Herrera %BloggerTitle%

Cameron PettigrewNote: This article has been updated from an earlier version to include a new statement sent Friday by a Fidelity spokesman.

On the surface, Cameron Pettigrew seems a lot like many people you might know. A young, ambitious guy who felt he found his ideal job at Fidelity Investments in Westlake, Texas. He even joked one time about getting a Fidelity tattoo.

Good thing he didn't.

In late October, Pettigrew and three other fantasy football league commissioners were fired by Fidelity. Pettigrew, a distinguished employee in the Private Client Group who had been with the company for two and a half years, was left scrambling for further explanation. Pettigrew said he never received a single verbal or written warning before his dismissal.

His slip-up had overridden an impressive resume, which contains multiple company honors, including being the only person chosen for an exclusive, 10-member program (Future Leaders of Westlake) who was not already in a management position. Three weeks before his firing, he was offered a position at Fidelity's prestigious Wall Street branch, but Pettigrew said he chose to decline the offer due to the high cost of living in New York City.

"I loved my job, my coworkers, and frankly, I loved Fidelity. I practically begged to have my job back," Pettigrew told FanHouse. "I spent weeks trying to appeal my termination ... I even said I would take a demotion if they accepted me back."

Pettigrew was commissioner of a $20 entry fee league with nine other employees. According to Pettigrew, those other nine league members -- which included three team leaders and a manager -- were simply given warnings and got to keep their jobs. "They are all dear friends of mine and I would never want for them to be fired or additionally reprimanded," said Pettigrew, "but the way in which Fidelity applied our punishment was flawed and unequal."

According to Pettigrew, he was questioned by two company investigators for an hour and a half, where they wanted to know everything he knew about fantasy sports at the Westlake site. "They were insistent upon knowing about everyone involved, especially leadership, and whether those persons even mentioned a league," said Pattigrew. "I kept thinking, 'All of this over a $20 fantasy football league?' "

In the past, Fidelity made it known to employees via e-mail that participation in fantasy sports activities is not permitted on company time. However, Pettigrew says "nobody at the entire Westlake site took the policy seriously." He claims there are numerous different active leagues at Fidelity and team leaders, managers and directors discussed fantasy sports regularly. For many participants, fantasy sports is considered a harmless hobby that has potential to bolster camaraderie between employees and overall morale.

When FanHouse initially contacted Fidelity for a comment on Pettigrew's dismissal, spokesman Vin Loporchio said that the company doesn't comment on either current or former employees "out of respect for their privacy and confidentiality."

After being asked in a follow-up for specific details on their policy, Loporchio offered the following in an e-mail sent Friday: "We aren't making any judgments on fantasy leagues. If it is permitted legally, people can do this on their own time. Our company policies relate to the professional conduct of our employees. We do not want our company's equipment and resources to be used for these purposes." Loporchio added that the activities can be disruptive to the company's business and Fidelity wants their employees to be focused on customers and clients.

"I kept thinking, 'All of this over a $20 fantasy football league?' "
-- Cameron Pettigrew
"The only official communication I ever received about Fidelity's policy against fantasy sports was a very generic e-mail which could easily be overlooked," said Pettigrew. "We were definitely never told that this could be a 'fireable' offense."

According to Pettigrew, that fireable offense included two incoming instant messages from league members, wherein brief conversations followed about teams and players. "Those two messages were received when I was idle and not in contact with any clients."

The league Web page, which was hosted on Yahoo! Sports, is blocked from access on work computers, according to Pettigrew, so members did not check their lineups on company time. And he claims the $20 league buy-in was only paid by a couple of guys on work property. "I only accepted the money during a scheduled break or after work, so I thought I was not doing so on company time."

Despite his appeals to Fidelity, Pettigrew was labeled with a stain on the Termination Explanation of his U5 form (Uniform Termination Notice for Securities Industry Regulation) ... VIOLATION OF COMPANY GAMBLING POLICY INVOLVING FANTASY FOOTBALL.

"They see the word gambling and it's as though I am toxic," said Pettigrew, who made note of the tough economy. "I have been blackballed in my industry."

According to Pettigrew, his department director and local leadership fought hard for his job, but he was considered an "organizer of gambling activities" by the corporation, because he was commissioner of the league.

Interestingly, Pettigrew says he never played fantasy football before coming to Fidelity. "Last season I was approached by one of the managers who asked that I be in his league. I knew vaguely about the policy at the time but figured that if a manager was involved than the rule was probably just something of an outdated law, like how it's illegal in Michigan for a woman to cut her own hair without asking her husband first."

In a statement offered to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week, Loporchio said: "We have clear policies that relate to gambling. Participation in any form of gambling through the use of Fidelity time or equipment or any other company resource is prohibited. In addition to being illegal in a lot of places, it can also be disruptive. We want our employees to be focused on our customers and clients."

That "gambling" label has drawn the ire of leading Fantasy Sports Trade Association members. While fantasy sports may be considered gambling in a minority of states, it has been deemed one of the exemptions in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, according to Professor I. Nelson Rose, who is a published expert on gambling law.

Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, had this to offer: "No fantasy sports company has been the subject of prosecution for gambling. No person has been the subject of prosecution for gambling related to fantasy sports participation."

A former Fidelity employee, who spoke to FanHouse on the condition of anonymity, claimed: "Saying the word 'gamble' at Fidelity is like saying 'bomb' on an airplane." He also alleges that "Fidelity likes to make examples out of people and this was probably seen as a good opportunity to do so."

Cameron PettigrewWith the evidence available, this seems more of a corporate culture issue than anything. On one hand, you could just ignore Pettigrew's strong track record and say company policy is company policy, end of story. Even if any given policy outlaws fantasy sports, or for that matter, Facebook usage and 15-minute smoke breaks. On the other, you can show leniency and let him off with probation, or perhaps even soften the termination explanation on his U5 form to exclude "gambling".

In a way, Pettigrew and three other employees are out of work because they were fantasy league commissioners -- the "organizers" -- and therefore the easier targets for Fidelity to exhibit that said activities will not be tolerated.

Certainly, it's not the first sympathetic termination story we'll hear, and it won't be the last. Yesterday, a woman e-mailed FanHouse to say her daughter was fired after eight years of service for bringing a one-pound puppy to work to show her friends for five minutes. One year later, she claims her daughter still can't find a job.

Sounds outrageous? In these times, you can believe it.

In the meantime, Cameron Pettigrew is available for employment.

He just wishes he could have his job and his life back.

Filed under: Sports