Anchor Sage Steele is suing ESPN over free speech claims: NPR

Sage Steele, a veteran ESPN employee, has filed a lawsuit against ESPN and Disney over claims that violate her right to free speech and violate her employee contract.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for the Bullseye Event

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Jesse Grant/Getty Images for the Bullseye Event

Sage Steele, a veteran ESPN employee, has filed a lawsuit against ESPN and Disney over claims that violate her right to free speech and violate her employee contract.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for the Bullseye Event

One of ESPN’s longtime anchors has been to take the company and its parent company, The Walt Disney Co., to court over claims of free speech and breach of contract.

Last September, Sage Steele speak of disappointment with her employer’s COVID-19 vaccine authorization and briefly mentioned former President Barack Obama while discussing her racial identity as a guest on Uncut with Jay Cutler audio file. Then she was pulled from the air.

Steele’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, said the sports paper allegedly retaliated against her for speaking about her personal beliefs outside of work despite complying with ESPN’s employee policies.

“Steele was punished for speaking her truth in violation of free speech protections under Connecticut law and the US constitution,” Freedman said. “ESPN violated her right to free speech, retaliated against her, reprimanded her, made a scapegoat for her, allowed the media and her colleagues to criticize her, and forced her to She has to apologize just because her personal opinion doesn’t align with Disney’s business philosophy at the moment.Sage is siding with the US corporation to ensure employees don’t have their rights trampled on. their favor or silence their opinions.”

According to court filings, Steele’s legal team accused ESPN of taking her comments out of context. They took it a step further by claiming that ESPN operates to a double standard by condemning Steele for her comments while ignoring other political and controversial statements by other employees.

During Steele’s appearance on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s podcast, to be broadcast on September 29, 2021, Cutler asked why she was wearing a Band-Aid on her arm. She explained that she had just received her COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with Disney company regulations, even though she personally felt the company’s request to do so was inappropriate.

“I respect everyone’s decision,” Steele said on the podcast. “But I have a job, a job that I love and frankly a job that I need.”

On the topic of race, Steele explained that she is proud to come from a family that is both black and white, court records say. As the conversation continued, Steele recalled her 2014 appearance on See, where she was asked why she didn’t identify herself as Black, similar to Obama. She said she was drawn to the former president who identified only as Black despite being raised by his white mother and grandmother.

Steele tested positive for COVID-19 just days after the podcast aired and was halted on October 4, court filings say, and was told she would have to give a statement. public apology.

In response to Steele’s lawsuit, ESPN said in a statement: “Sage remains a valued contributor to some of ESPN’s highest-profile content, including recent Masters TV shows and anchored our SportsCenter noon. In fact, she was never suspended.”

But Steele’s attorneys argued otherwise.

Steele was removed from the broadcast from October 4 to October 14, during which time, according to the filing, multiple media outlets reported that Steele was sidelined because of comments she made. on the Cutler podcast.

In the court filing, Steele’s attorneys said, “ESPN has done nothing to refute widespread reports that it suspended or disciplined Steele for her comments, neither because those reports were facts and because ESPN benefits from the public perception that they punished Steele for her remarks.”

Steele’s team is seeking damages against ESPN for allegedly violating her First Amendment rights and Connecticut law, which forbids employers from disciplining any employee for exercising his or her own right. by speech. Her attorneys also allege that ESPN breached Steele’s contract and intentionally caused emotional distress to the anchor.

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