An ESPN anchorwoman is suing the company, accusing it of suspending and demoting her over her comments about vaccination mandates.
Sage Steele made the comments on Jay Cutler’s podcast last year and afterwards, according to the lawsuit filed in Connecticut, was made to apologize, lost key assignments, and was bullied and harassed with impunity by co-workers.
“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,” her attorney, Bryan Freedman, said in a statement to news outlets.
“Sage is standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don’t get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced,” he said.
In a statement, ESPN denied retaliating against Ms. Steele for her skepticism about vaccine mandates.
“Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN’s highest profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon ‘SportsCenter,'” a spokesperson said in the statement.
A “source with knowledge of ESPN” told the New York Post that Ms. Steele will remain on the air as the lawsuit progresses. A second source told the tabloid newspaper that her contract does not expire for “a while.”
The scarlet comments came on Mr. Cutler’s podcast in September, when Ms. Steele was asked about ESPN, which is owned by Disney, having a COVID-vaccine mandate for workers.
“I work for a company that mandates it and I had until Sept. 30 to get it done or I’m out,” Ms. Steele told the former NFL quarterback.
“I respect everyone’s decision, I really do, but to mandate it is sick and it’s scary to me in many ways,” she said. “I just, I’m not surprised it got to this point, especially with Disney, I mean a global company like that.”
According to the Post, the suit claims ESPN “violated Connecticut law and Steele’s rights to free speech based upon a faulty understanding of her comments and a nonexistent, unenforced workplace policy that serves as nothing more than pretext.”
The suit also charges that ESPN punished Ms. Steele based on “inaccurate third-party accounts of Steele’s comments, and that the network did not immediately review the actual comments or the context in which they were made.”