Sage Steele, a celebrity “SportsCenter” host for ESPN, is suing the network and parent company Disney over the circumstances that caused her to be paused late last year.
In the lawsuit, Steele alleges she was retaliated against for speaking out about the company’s vaccine mandate on Jay Cutler’s podcast last September, in violation of both her contract and her right to free speech.
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint first reported on the lawsuit.
“Sage remains a valued contributor to some of ESPN’s highest profile content, including recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our midday SportsCenter,” an ESPN spokesperson said in a statement. “In fact, she was never suspended.”
A source with ESPN’s knowledge told the Post that Steele will remain on the air during the lawsuit. Her contract is out “for a while,” a second source said.
“I work for a company that mandates this, and I had until September 30 to get it done or I’m out,” Steele told Cutler, a former NFL quarterback who has played much of his 12-year-old career career as a player with the Bears.
“I respect everyone’s decision, I really do, but ordering it is sick and scary in a lot of ways,” Steele said. “I’m just not surprised it’s come to this, especially with Disney, I mean a global company like this.”
The lawsuit, filed in Connecticut, alleges that Steele was benched by ESPN for the comments and that the company forced her to apologize.
“In a knee-jerk response, ESPN and Disney relied on the misleading characterizations of their comments, bowed to groupthink, and forced Steele to publicly apologize and suspend her for a period of time in October 2021,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit further alleges that ESPN disciplined Steele based on “inaccurate third-party reports of Steele’s comments and that the network did not immediately verify the actual comments or the context in which they were made.”
While Steele would have been off the airwaves for a period of time after testing positive for COVID-19, the suit says the company used the words “marginalized” and “taking a break” to describe her absence on the airwaves, and refers to these words as “euphemisms” for suspension.
Citing various reports in the press that called Steele suspended, the lawsuit said: “ESPN has done nothing to refute the widespread reports that it had suspended or otherwise disciplined Steele over her comments, both because those reports were true and because ESPN stood to capitalize on the public perception that Steele was being punished for her remarks.”
It is also alleged that she was retaliated against by losing important assignments and that the network did not stop colleagues from bullying and harassing her.
The lawsuit alleges that Steele was removed from duties such as hosting the NYC Marathon and the ESPNW Summit, an event she had hosted since 2010.
The lawsuit mentions multiple instances of colleagues criticizing Steele on the air or on social media. It said Steele sent ESPN manager Norby Williamson a screenshot of a tweet from SportsCenter host Nicole Briscoe, who “retweeted a post from someone who said she hopes ESPN stops using Ms. Steele to cover women’s sporting events.” report, with Ms. Briscoe adding, ‘Amen. (Even if it gets me in trouble.) Amen.” ”
The lawsuit claimed the tweet was still active three months later.
Ryan Clark, a former Steelers player, allegedly refused to go on air with Steele and was not disciplined, according to the lawsuit.
“ESPN violated her right to free speech, retaliating against her, rebuking her, scapegoating her, allowing the media and her peers to condemn her, and forcing her to apologize simply because her personal opinions did not match the.” Disney’s current corporate philosophy,” her attorney, Bryan Freedman, said in a statement. “Sage works against American companies to ensure their rights are not trampled on or their voices silenced.”
The lawsuit alleges that ESPN “violated Connecticut law and Steele’s right to free speech based on a misunderstanding of her comments and a nonexistent, unenforced workplace policy used only as a subterfuge.”
The lawsuit alleges Steele notified the company’s human resources department of her misconduct last February and produced a letter from attorneys.
Significantly, the defendants withheld premium hosting contracts from Steele for months as punishment, when they received their complaint and letter from their attorney, they immediately offered her the contract to co-host coverage of the Masters Tournament, in a blatant admission of liability and an overt one plan to try and evade responsibility,” the suit says.
Steele, 49, has worked at ESPN since 2007. She currently co-hosts the lunchtime edition of SportsCenter with Matt Barrie. She has previously anchored “NBA Countdown” and the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
https://nypost.com/2022/04/27/sage-steele-suing-espn-over-suspension-for-vaccine-comments/ Sage Steele is suing ESPN for banking over vaccination comments