‘Jackass' Star Bam Margera Takes on ‘Draconian' Wellness Agreement After Firing
You’ve heard of employers requiring urine specimens before hiring you. In fact, perhaps you’ve done that. Many of us must test negative for illegal drugs to move forward with new employment.
But how about a breathalyzer three times a day? A regular hair follicle test? Repeated urine checks? How about being forced to choose between your mental health and your job? And how about punishment for taking prescribed drugs?
Hollywood stunt artist, prankster and professional skateboarder Bam Margera was fired last fall from the popular MTV franchise “Jackass” after testing positive for Adderall, which he takes as prescribed for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Now he is on the rampage with a new lawsuit announced Monday.
Margera admits he is an alcoholic, having bounced in and out of rehabs since 2009. He also lives with bipolar disorder. Before working on the new sequel “Jackass Forever,” he signed what’s called a “wellness agreement.” But are his personal criteria enough to warrant such severe testing? And are wellness agreements crossing a dangerous line for people with mental health challenges?
Margera does have a notorious history of filming questionably drunken videos, DUIs and relapses, but he had reportedly been “blowing zeroes” on the breathalyzer, meaning he was sober from alcohol at the time of his firing.
Understanding Wellness Agreements
Just what are “wellness agreements” and what is their purpose? Beverly Hills-based psychiatrist Carole Lieberman breaks it down.
“TV and film companies issue wellness agreements when their project is dependent upon an actor, host or similar type person, and their being unable to work because of a physical or psychological problem would cost the company a lot of money — or may even destroy the project altogether. Bam Margera may well have grounds for a lawsuit against ‘Jackass,’ for not accommodating his mental disability.”
Margera has compared his situation to the plight of Britney Spears and her conservatorship. And on the legal front, Minesh Patel, a Texas attorney, notes that conservatorships often include these “wellness or medical contracts.”
“The public sympathy around the Britney Spears’ conservatorship is a great example, with tons of folks outraged over what appears to be similar ‘wellness’ contracts she is reportedly under,” Patel says. “However, I do believe [Margera’s] case could set a bad precedent where folks in the media or entertainment industries might feel taking their prescriptions puts their career in jeopardy.”
Health Care Providers Weigh In
In fact, more health care providers whom I interviewed this week weighed in on Margera’s situation.
“Employers may have to evaluate the conditions of the wellness agreements they’re setting and whether they’re unfairly imposing overly strict conditions that aren’t well justified,” Wind says. “It can be considered to be unfairly inconvenient or stigmatizing mental health if employers penalize employees for taking medication that has been prescribed for their mental health condition.”
Dr.Joseph Volpicelli, a psychiatrist in Pennsylvania who has more than 25 years of experience with addiction treatment, believes that these wellness agreements are a sticky situation with regards to a patient’s sobriety and mental health.
“Forced abstinence may look like effective treatment, but… from a medical perspective, I do not think treatment will be successful if a person is robbed of his agency to be responsible for his own health,” Volpicelli explains. “When employment is conditioned upon drug and alcohol-free drug screens… the employee is likely to feel shame and hide slips and early signs of relapse rather than seek additional support.”
Margera is suing Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks, the leader of the Jackass pack Johnny Knoxville, producer Jeff Tremaine as well as director Spike Jonze and others. He is asking for an injunction to prevent the movie’s release and millions in monetary damages because he says these parties violated his civil rights.
Bam Margera was “coerced” into signing the “draconian” wellness agreement by Knoxville and Jonze, who “accosted him” while he was in rehab in 2019 according to Variety. Margera says Knoxville and Jonze told him he would be cut from all future “Jackass” projects if he didn’t sign the wellness agreement immediately.
Margera said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly: “I am pissed-off, angry, hurt and shattered that Johnny [Knoxville], Jeff [Tremaine], Spike [Jonze] and the studios and producers ripped off my creativity, content, and stunts to make this movie, fired me without justification, and refuse to pay for my work. I created this franchise before any of these guys ever got involved… My lawsuit isn’t just about compensation. It’s about treating people with mental health and addiction issues in an honest manner and not taking advantage of their disabilities to rip them off.”
In 2017, Margera revealed in an interview he had been “mostly sober” since 2015. He relapsed in 2018, attending court-mandated meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Margera is not only the star of the television show and film franchise that has made Paramount and MTV hundreds of millions of dollars to date, but a co-writer and producer who came up with the vast majority of the franchise’s most memorable content,” the lawsuit says.
So where do we go from here? On the one hand, Bam Margera may deserve another chance because he didn’t test positive for alcohol, which has been his biggest problem in the past. On the other hand, the risky behavior he has demonstrated for years may in fact be cause for dismissal.
I’d hate to see a man who has worked so hard to get clean, including attending multiple rehabs, be cast aside because of a positive drug test result for a psychiatric med he has been prescribed.
Margera’s costar Johnny Knoxville says he just wants the best for Margera. “We want Bam to be happy and healthy and get the help he needs,” Johnny Knoxville told GQ this past May. “We tried to push that along.”
“Jackass Forever” is due out Oct. 22, but it appears the film is soldiering on without Bam Margera.
Nikki Margera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons