ESPN seeks to dismiss Sage Steele free speech lawsuit

ESPN seeks to dismiss Sage Steele free speech lawsuit

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ESPN filed a motion Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit of on-air personality and “SportsCenter” host Sage Steele, who is suing the sports network for violating her free speech rights.

Steele alleged in a lawsuit filed in April that her right to free speech was violated after she was removed from her post over comments she made on a podcast last year about identity former President Barack Obama’s racial streak and ESPN’s vaccination mandate, which she called “sick” and “agonizing.”

ESPN’s filing asked the Connecticut Superior Court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Steele cannot show that she was punished because her salary was never docked. ESPN also argued that it is not legally responsible for how colleagues and others have responded to Steele’s comments and that the company has its own right of expression which includes who it airs.

“Removing Steele from the shows, allowing her co-workers to opt out of appearing with her, and allegedly conditioning her return to those shows on her apology are decisions made that are considered conduct furthering ESPN’s protected expression,” indicates the folder.

ESPN declined to comment.

After this story was published, Steele’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, released a statement accusing ESPN of leaking Steele’s personal information, including his salary.

“Disney’s current management continues to denigrate talent in disregard not only of their First Amendment rights, but also of employee privacy,” he said. “The motion has no merit and will be dismissed, along with Disney management for engaging in this outrageous conduct.”

Last fall, Steele appeared on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s podcast and called ESPN parent company Disney’s coronavirus vaccine mandate “sick” and “d ‘scary”. She then contrasted her own racial identity, which she said was biracial, with Obama identifying as black.

“I think it’s fascinating considering his black father was nowhere to be found, but his white mother and grandmother raised him,” she said. “But, hey, you do. I will make myself.

Steele also said that female journalists share responsibility for preventing workplace harassment. “When you dress like that, I’m not saying you deserve the rude comments, but you also know what you’re doing when you put that outfit on,” she said.

In her lawsuit, Steele alleged that in response to the comments, ESPN stripped her of her assignments and failed to protect her from harassment by her colleagues who criticized her on social media. Ryan Clark, an NFL analyst, refused to appear on air with her, she alleged.

Due to a quirk in Connecticut law that extends First Amendment protections to the private sector, several legal experts were intrigued by the legal analysis of the case presented.

ESPN argued that not intervening in personality conflicts did not amount to the company sanctioning Steele.

“Steele’s comments upset many of his colleagues,” the company’s motion said. “She may be upset that her co-workers don’t like what she said, but “personality conflicts at work that generate antipathy and rebuffs from her. . . colleagues will not meet [the] standard’ for the discipline.

The motion also addressed Steele’s claims about lost assignments, including not showing up at an ESPN conference highlighting women’s work in sports and a V Foundation event to support cancer research. . According to the filing, it was Halle Berry’s public relations team, who were to be interviewed by Steele at the women’s event, who did not want Berry to be interviewed by Steele because of her controversial comments.

The motion also alleged that organizers of the V Foundation fundraiser asked ESPN to remove Steele from his duties at the event because they considered his comments about the coronavirus vaccine to be ‘anti-science’. .

Since the lawsuit was filed, Steele, 49, has continued as a host on ESPN, leading to the unusual situation of a high-profile TV star suing the network she appears on. The lawsuit was viewed internally at ESPN with some confusion. Steele signed a lengthy contract extension several years ago that expires in 2024. She earns around $3 million a year, according to two people with knowledge of her salary, and is the highest-paid female talent on the network.

This story has been updated to include a statement from Steele’s attorney.

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