ESPN will defend Sage Steele in a lawsuit and play for victory

ESPN anchor Sage Steele’s allegations that the network violated Connecticut law by dismissing it after making contradictory comments on former President Barack Obama and COVID-19 vaccines were “unfounded” by the network’s lawyers. They also claimed that his suit disregarded ESPN’s authority to decide who it broadcasts, what content it broadcasts, and what it tells the public about their choices.

ESPN filed a motion in the Connecticut Supreme Court last Thursday to dismiss Steele’s lawsuit, claiming that Steele, who is hailed by the network as an “excellent journalist” and who was not fired, stopped or fined, suffered no harm. the law should improve. Paul Hastings’ LLP employment attorneys Raymond Bertrand and James de Han wrote a brief summary of ESPN.

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In April, Steele sued ESPN for breach of contract, bad faith, emotional distress, and a unique Connecticut statute that makes it illegal for employers to discipline employees for a constitutionally protected call. The 49-year-old Indiana University graduate claims that ESPN damaged his career by publicly apologizing for asking if Obama should be considered black because his father, Barack Obama’s elder, did not raise him largely, and for mocking ESPN’s job. the rule that workers are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Steele’s provocative statements, which also included comments linking harassment of female journalists to their clothing style, took place in September 2021, when she appeared on the podcast “Uncut with Jay Cutler” by former NFL quarterback and real-life transmitter Jay Cutler.

Following Steele ‘s apology, ESPN issued a statement saying it “owned”.[s] different perspectives – dialogue and discussion make this place great. At the same time, the network warned: “We expect these views to be expressed respectfully, in a way that is in line with our values ​​and in line with our internal policies.” He added: “We have live conversations with Sage and those conversations will remain private.”

In his application, Steele described that he felt excluded by colleagues who were upset that he had expressed political conservative views. He was also disappointed by his superiors, who refused to perform his tent duties while being content with former President Donald Trump’s publicly ridiculous hosts.

In its summary, ESPN requests that its statement on Steele and related activities qualify as a protected speech under the First Amendment. The network refers to case law which supports the view that television programs – and the accompanying comments on who and what they are – are involved in a protected speech. ESPN also emphasizes that Steele is a public figure, noting that in his complaint, Steele calls himself “one of ESPN’s most popular athletes.” ESPN claims that it is entitled to rely on the Connecticut Anti-SLAPP Statute, which requires the action to be dismissed if the defendant has exercised its freedom of expression.

ESPN also asserts that it was legally involved in making decisions, deciding on Steele’s duties and allegedly allowing co-host Ryan Clark to refuse to air with him. According to the network, transmission decisions are legally classified as activities to promote secure communications.

“ESPN,” has brief charges, “has the right to decide who to broadcast, and this may require that his or her talent meet certain conditions, such as apologizing publicly before being broadcast, especially if their presence would otherwise distract you.” The network will keep Steele removed from the program, potential missions and his return denied until he apologizes, all of which will be subject to the casting decisions.

ESPN is also trying to refute Steele’s negative portrayal of ESPN chief Laura Gentile at the ESPNW summit in October 2021. Gentile informed the audience that Steele would not take the floor due to its contradictory comments – according to Steele, the statement “ESPN” proves. accepted a disciplinary sanction against him. However, in a nutshell, ESPN acknowledges that Gentile’s remarks qualify as communication under the anti-SLAPP statute, as it partially approached hundreds of participants, including the media, “tens of thousands” of people watched the web, and the topic was broadcast. decisions.

ESPN also supports Steele’s claim under the Connecticut Statute, which prohibits employers from penalizing employees for protected speech, because the statute only applies if, as the statute explicitly acknowledges, the employee’s speech “does not significantly or significantly affect the employee’s bona fide performance or employment relationship. .

In addition, ESPN emphasizes that Steele ‘s comments “severed his employment relationship”. The network illustrates this by stating that Steele was due to interview Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry at the 2021 ESPNW summit, but “Berry’s public relations team did not allow her to sit for this interview due to inconsistencies caused by Steele’s comments.” ESPN also claims that the organizers of the V Foundation’s fundraising “asked ESPN to withdraw Steele from the event because they considered his comments on the COVID-19 vaccine to be” anti-scientific “and the fund’s mission is to raise money for cancer research.

ESPN also emphasizes that Steele was not “disciplined” within the meaning of the law and did not suffer harm. Steele, ESPN, emphasizes that he was not charged or remunerated at any time, and although “he may be dissatisfied that his co – workers did not like what he said,” does not qualify as a ‘discipline’.

Lastly, ESPN alleges that it could not have breached Steele’s contract, since the contract required ESPN to pay only his salary and the associated benefits. ESPN claims that the agreement does not contain any language obliging the network to use its services. Nor does it guarantee its high-level or desired performance.

Steele’s lawyers have the opportunity to respond to ESPN’s brief and to oppose its arguments.

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