The Blessing of March Madness

March Madness is back and we’ve had a bit more madness this year. We saw the first 16 seed topple a 1 seed when UMBC shocked Virginia. Virginia’s early exit seemed to turn the South Region upside down, with upsets coming fast and furious. Eventually, upstart 11-seed Loyola University of Chicago stepped from the carnage, made its way through the regional finals in Atlanta by tearing apart Kansas State, and earned its spot in the Final Four.

And we all met Sister Jean.

“Sister Jean” is 98-year old Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. She has been the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers’ team chaplain for decades now, and she’s become the lovable face of the team’s improbable run. If you don’t find her thoroughly delightful, you need to call your cardiologist to confirm you still have a heart. When Coach Porter Moser first accepted Loyola-Chicago’s offer, he found a single file waiting on his otherwise empty desk. It was full of remarkably frank scouting reports on each of his players, authored by none other than Sister Jean. Just a few other examples of her charm:

  • Some reporters asked Sister Jean about her new national profile, and she gently responded, “Really, if I can correct you, international.”
  • Sister Jean filled out a bracket before the tournament that had the Ramblers winning through to the Sweet Sixteen, but losing there. After the team beat Nevada in the Sweet Sixteen, someone told her they’d broken her bracket. “Keep breaking it! That’s okay with me,” she replied.
  • She watched one game while wearing her Loyola-Chicago ballcap backwards. When asked why, she gave a nod to the kids, saying, “I just did it because I knew that’s the way they do it, and so, I decided to turn it around.”

Now Sister Jean has given the university her blessing to license her image, and has asked for nothing in return. ESPN reports that apparel companies are lining up. You can now buy Sister Jean t-shirts that bear her catchphrase, “Worship. Work and Win!” Sister Jean bobbleheads are going to be mass-produced soon, and socks are on the way. The licensing royalties will go to support the Loyola Athletic Fund, and bobblehead sales will be split with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sister Jean’s blessing and Loyola-Chicago’s prudence raise a broader issue for all employers: maintaining and respecting employee privacy and the proper use of information relating to employees. I hope everyone is aware of the employee privacy rights in HIPAA and other laws concerning the confidentiality of medical information, but the issue is broader than that. Many state laws and the common law may limit the amount of information you can share about your employees.

For instance, my state of South Carolina provides a cause of action for invasion of privacy. A cause of action may take several forms. One may arise when an employer “publishes” private affairs that have no legitimate public concern. Other claims may arise if employers wrongfully intrude into the private affairs of an employee. Claims like this often arise when employers overstep their bounds in broadcasting the reasons for an employee’s discharge, but they are not limited to that context. However, the common elixir to these problems is to carefully obtain informed and voluntary consent about any employee disclosures (or, in Sister Jean’s parlance, her blessing).

Go Ramblers!