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Above the law?

Scum, traitor and liar are just a few of the words that appeared on various fan blogs in reference to Brett Favre and the alleged content of a recent phone conversation he had with Detroit Lions then General Manager Matt Millen.

After reports surfaced that the ex-Packer quarterback offered inside information on play calling and strategy to the Lions, NFL officials stated that the conduct, even if proven to be true, would not violate league policy.

Favre subsequently denied that he disclosed any pertinent playbook information to his former division foe and the Packers announced they did not plan to file a grievance with the league.

But if the allegations have any truth to them, were Favre’s actions above the law?

While employment law attorney Jeffrey S. Hynes said that Favre deserves a fair shake, the behavior could have had consequences for the common worker.

“One cannot help but note that, if the type of conduct referenced in the rumors was engaged in by the ‘average Joe’ or even Joe’s boss in a typical, private sector employment context, such actions could have harsh legal repercussions,” Hynes said.

State and federal law forbids transfer of “trade secrets” to competing entities, which would include past employers. The definition of trade secret in the federal law includes “patterns, plans…prototypes…techniques, processes [and] procedures,” which derive independent economic value from not being generally known to the public.

Theoretically, the unique information contained in the Packers playbook is no less valuable to the NFL than the “patterns, plans and techniques” for producing beer, Coca-Cola or Nestle Quick, Hynes said.

“The latter information, if improperly conveyed by former employees to competitors, could result in civil and criminal penalties for the perpetrator, including an assessment of damages, fines and even prison time,” Hynes said.

It seems highly improbable that Favre will ever sniff a fine or reprimand, legal or otherwise, since he is one of the most publicly visible figures in a profession which has welcomed back felons with regularity.

But that doesn’t mean the top-jersey seller in the NFL has legal immunity, does it?

Hynes said if the situation evolves to the point of proven wrongdoing by Favre, it will be a juicy topic for debate on why a football player might be given a “free pass” from legal responsibility which, could under arguably analogous circumstances, subject a regular employee to fines and/or jail time.

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