ESPN anchor Sage Steele is suing the company and Disney, alleging that her contract was breached and free speech rights were violated.
Per Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal, Steele’s lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.
Back in September, Steele called the ESPN vaccine mandate “sick” and “scary to me.” Days later, from the same podcast with Jay Cutler, a clip made the rounds of Steele making comments about Barack Obama’s black father. Soon after, she apologized and was taken off the air while also testing positive for COVID-19.
Via the WSJ, the lawsuit claims Steele had “prime assignments” taken away, and that the company did nothing regarding internal bullying and harassment.
ESPN also retaliated by taking away prime assignments and failing to stop bullying and harassment by Ms. Steele’s colleagues, the suit alleges.
The complaint says ESPN’s handling of Ms. Steele’s situation was an example of selective enforcement of a network policy that bars news personnel from taking positions on political or social issues.
ESPN has “violated Connecticut law and Steele’s rights to free speech based upon a faulty understanding of her comments and a nonexistent, unenforced workplace policy that serves as nothing more than pretext,” according to the suit, which seeks unspecified damages.
In a brief statement, ESPN noted that Steele has continued to anchor the noon SportsCenter and hosted editions of the show from Augusta earlier this month during the company’s coverage of The Masters and saying she was never suspended.
“Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN’s highest profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon SportsCenter. As a point of fact, she was never suspended.”
The lawsuit claims ESPN’s punishment was based on “inaccurate third party accounts” of the various comments made by Steele.
The suit also said ESPN took its actions based on “inaccurate third-party accounts of Steele’s comments, and that the network did not immediately review the actual comments or the context in which they were made.”
There have been several instances of ESPN suspending on-air personalities over the years, including (but not limited to) Adrian Wojnarowski, Keith Olbermann, Curt Schilling, Rob Parker, Bob Ryan, Britt McHenry, Bill Simmons, Dan Le Batard, and Jemele Hill, for a variety of infractions. Many others have not been suspended (including several of those previously mentioned) “for taking positions on political or social issues.”