Sage Steele, a star “SportsCenter” anchor for ESPN, is suing the network and parent company Disney over the circumstances around her suspension late last year.
In the lawsuit, Steele alleges that she was retaliated against and her suspension violated both her contract and right to free speech for comments she made about the company’s vaccine mandate on Jay Cutler’s podcast last September.
Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal first reported on the lawsuit.
“Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN’s highest profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon ‘SportsCenter,’” an ESPN spokesperson said in a statement.
A source with knowledge of ESPN told The Post that Steele will remain on-air amid the lawsuit. A second source said her contract is not up for “a while”.
“I work for a company that mandates it and I had until September 30th to get it done or I’m out,” Steele told Cutler, a former NFL quarterback who spent much of his 12-year playing career with the Bears.
“I respect everyone’s decision, I really do, but to mandate it is sick and it’s scary to me in many ways,” Steele said. “I just, I’m not surprised it got to this point, especially with Disney, I mean a global company like that.”
The lawsuit, filed in Connecticut, alleges that Steele was benched by ESPN for the remarks and that the company forced her to apologize. It also alleges she was retaliated against by losing key assignments and that the network failed to stop colleagues from bullying and harassing her.
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.”
Further, the suit alleges that ESPN disciplined 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.”
“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. “Sage is standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don’t get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced.”
Steele, 49, has worked at ESPN since 2007. She currently co-hosts the noon edition of “SportsCenter” with Matt Barrie. She has previously anchored “NBA Countdown” and Scripps National Spelling Bee.