Sage Steele has made plenty of controversial remarks during her time at ESPN. They often have very little to do with the job she was hired for. Now, Steele is taking the sports giant to court, alleging that they violated her 1st Amendment rights.
Last year, Sage Steele made comments on a podcast with former NFL QB Jay Cutler questioning COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the racial identity of former President Barack Obama. The remarks drew heavy criticism. ESPN then forced Sage to apologize and initiated a de-facto suspension.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the suit alleges that ESPN infringed upon Sage Steele’s freedom of speech with the punitive measures. Sage claims ESPN practiced selective enforcement of their policy barring news employees from taking public positions on political matters. Both ESPN and its parent company, Disney, were named in the filing.
The suit also alleges that ESPN took action based on information from third parties which was inaccurate. The network did not review her comments or the context in which they were made. Steele’s lawyer says that his client is standing up to corporate America.
Under Connecticut law, employers cannot discipline employees for exercising their right to freedom of speech. That statute could come into question, as Steele had agreed to the company’s policy on political expression. Sage also agreed to issue her apology.
We will have to wait and see how this new legal battle plays out. Sage Steele was acting as a news representative for ESPN at the time. It will likely depend on how the judge interprets the policy of an employer against the existing 1st Amendment statute in the state.
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