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Back in December 2020, we learned that Omar Vizquel’s dismissal from the White Sox in September 2019 wasn’t the baseball-only decision it seemed. Tucked into an investigation by The Athletic into domestic abuse charges made against Vizquel by his wife was a report of an incident between Vizquel and a Birmingham Barons clubhouse worker.
The story offered no details, except to note that the employee was male, the White Sox suspended Vizquel with pay while investigating the matter, then fired him after the season. The Athletic reached out to all parties involved and received varying forms of no comment, but the ones issued by the clubhouse worker and Vizquel suggested plenty going unsaid:
When reached by The Athletic, the clubhouse worker, who is no longer with the team, said: “I have to stay silent about this.”
Vizquel, when asked about the situation, said: “I can’t really say anything about that because it really — nothing happened.”
The clubhouse worker is no longer staying silent.
In a lawsuit first reported by Jason Morrin of the sports law blog Conduct Detrimental, the employee — a former batboy of the Barons — is suing Vizquel, the Birmingham Barons and the Chicago White Sox for sexual harassment. The suit follows a charge of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June.
Content warning: The charges in the complaint are graphic and disturbing.
Regarding the EEOC’s involvement, the former batboy has autism, and the complaint says it makes him uniquely vulnerable to tolerating sexual abuse. The batboy alleges that Vizquel told him he was sexually interested in men, and the batboy made it clear that the feelings weren’t mutual. The complaint says that Vizquel repeatedly exposed his genitals to the batboy during the course of the batboy’s job duties, such as when he restocked the mini-fridge in the manager’s office.
In the most detailed allegation, the lawsuit says that after a game at Regions Field on Aug. 22, 2019, Vizquel told the batboy to follow him into the shower room, where he ordered the batboy to wash his back “for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.” Fearing the risk of his employment status, the batboy complied. After leaving the shower room, he says multiple Barons employees laughed at him, including two coaches (hitting coach Charles Poe, assistant coach Wes Helms), a player (Bernardo Flores Jr.), the director of stadium operations (Mike Gravel) and the clubhouse manager (Adam Gutierrez), who was his direct supervisor.
The batboy says he didn’t return to work due to humiliation, and he was “constructively discharged” from his position. The complaint lodges that his treatment and dismissal by the Barons and their employees are violations of his federally protected rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Athletic inquired with the White Sox and Barons, who sent statements in response:
The White Sox said in a statement: “After first learning of an alleged incident in late August 2019, the Chicago White Sox conducted an internal investigation that resulted in the termination of the organization’s relationship with Omar Vizquel. Because this is active litigation, at this time the White Sox will not comment further regarding the allegations included in this lawsuit.”
The Barons released the following statement via their attorney, Bryance Metheny: “When the Barons learned an alleged improper incident occurred involving Mr. Vizquel, it worked in conjunction with the Chicago White Sox to conduct an investigation. After that investigation, Mr. Vizquel was terminated. The Barons will have no further comment on active litigation.”
Five of the six individuals mentioned in the suit by name — Vizquel, Gutierrez, Gravel, Poe and Flores — are no longer employed by the Barons or White Sox. The exception is Helms, who is currently the manager of the Charlotte Knights.
Depending on how much time elapsed while the alleged incident on Aug. 22 made its way up the White Sox’s chain of command — the Barons hit the road afterward before returning home for the final series, which ended on Sept. 2 — a mid-September firing might actually represent a fairly quick turnaround time for that part of the process. What happened in the weeks and months beforehand is the problem, and now that we know the allegations underneath the decision to fire him, perhaps Chris Getz regrets his overly generous framing of the decision to move on:
“Listen, Omar, ultra-talented player, very good instructor, created a good environment for our players,” Getz continued. “We just felt with where things are at, our player development system, that it was time to go separate ways. But not only for himself, but for the organization as well and we wish Omar well. He was a positive influence while he was here.”
(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)