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#pounditTuesday, August 16, 2022

Sage Steele files lawsuit against ESPN

Jul 11, 2017; Marina del Rey, CA, USA; Tamika Catchings (left), Sage Steele (center) and Karl-Anthony Towns pose during the Gatorade National Athlete of the Year Awards at the Ritz-Carlton. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Longtime ESPN anchor Sage Steele is suing her employer.

Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Steele has filed a lawsuit against ESPN and parent company Disney. The suit accuses ESPN of taking action against Steele after she exercised her right to free speech.

During an appearance on the “Uncut with Jay Cutler” podcast last September, Steele ripped ESPN over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. She later tested positive for COVID and was temporarily taken off the air. The belief was that her hiatus had just as much to do with her comments about ESPN’s vaccine mandate as it did with her contracting the virus.

Steele also faced backlash for comments she made on the same podcast about former president Barack Obama. She said she finds it “fascinating” that Obama identifies as black on his US census form “considering his black dad was nowhere to be found.”

Steele later issued an apology. Her lawsuit states that the apology was forced by ESPN executives. The suit also claims ESPN retaliated against Steele by “taking away prime assignments and failing to stop bullying and harassment by Ms. Steele’s colleagues.”

The lawsuit alleges that ESPN violated Connecticut state law.

“ESPN violated her free speech rights, retaliated against her, reprimanded her, scapegoated her, allowed the media and her peers to excoriate her and forced her to apologize simply because her personal opinions did not align with Disney’s corporate philosophy of the moment,” Steele’s attorney Bryan Freedman said in a statement. “Sage is standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don’t get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced.”

Steele is expected to remain on the air with ESPN while the lawsuit plays out, Ryan Glasspiegel of the New York Post reports.

ESPN said last year that it welcomes differing viewpoints but that those viewpoints need to be “expressed respectfully.”

The Cutler podcast appearance was not the first time Steele has faced backlash for something she publicly complained about.

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