ESPN has filed a motion to dismiss anchor Sage Steele’s freedom of speech lawsuit against the company.
Last month, Steele filed a lawsuit against the network and its parent company, Walt Disney, over allegations that her free speech rights were violated. Steele alleged that the sports media outlet retaliated against her for comments she made in a podcast interview with a former NFL quarterback.
ESPN responded Thursday, filing a motion with the Connecticut Superior Court saying Steele cannot argue she was punished since her pay was never docked. The network added it also has rights, which include taking Steele off broadcasts and allowing co-workers to opt out of working with Steele.
“Removing Steele from broadcasts, allowing her co-workers to forgo appearing with her, and allegedly conditioning her return to those broadcasts on her issuing an apology are casting decisions that are considered conduct furthering ESPN’s protected expression,” the filing read.
During an appearance on “Uncut with Jay Cutler” in September, Steele referred to ESPN’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate as “sick” and said she finds former President Obama identifying as Black “fascinating” because he was raised by his white mother and grandmother. She also suggested women “need to be held responsible as well” when they receive inappropriate comments about the way they dress.
Steele’s attorney Bryan Freedman responded to the motion:
“Just as it did in the Scarlett Johansson case, Disney responds by trying to shame the person it already has victimized, disclosing facts about Sage’s salary that have nothing at all to do with their legal claims,” Freedman said.
“The current leadership at Disney continues to denigrate talent disregarding not only their first amendment rights but also employee privacy. The motion has no merit and will be dismissed, as should the leadership at Disney for engaging in this outrageous conduct.”
ESPN’s motion also pointed to other entities that allegedly did not want to collaborate with Steele.
“The evidence supports that Steele’s conduct disrupted her professional relationships. For example, Steele was scheduled to interview Halle Berry at the 2021 espnW summit,” the motion said. “However, the public relations team associated with Berry would not let her sit for that interview because of the controversy Steele’s comments created. And the organizers for the V Foundation fundraiser asked ESPN to take Steele off the event because they perceived her comments about the COVID-19 Vaccine as ‘anti-science,’ and the Foundation’s mission is to raise funds for cancer research.”
Though she filed a lawsuit, Steele remains employed at ESPN. She was used as part of its Masters coverage, which ended horribly as she got smashed in the face by a golf ball.
Steele also continues to appear on “SportsCenter” after her recovery.