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Sage Steele Rejects ESPN Settlement, Will Take Disney to Court After Being Suspended Over Vaccine Mandate Comments

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In an impassioned legal face-off with her employer, prominent SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele has rejected ESPN’s olive branch. ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney Co., attempted to mollify the tensions by offering Steele a $501,000 settlement alongside coverage for “reasonable” attorney fees, as reported by Front Office Sports. However, this financial proposal, made last week, was swiftly rebuffed as Steele remains resolute in her pursuit of justice.

The genesis of this dispute dates back to April 2022 when Steele took legal action against ESPN and Walt Disney Co. The lawsuit accused the network of infringing upon Steele’s right to free speech, in response to her public critique of both ESPN’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and former President Barack Obama’s racial self-identification.

This controversy was ignited in September 2021 during an episode of the Uncut podcast, hosted by former NFL player Jay Cutler. During her appearance, Steele expressed her consternation regarding her employer’s vaccination policy. She told Cutler, “I work for a company that mandates it and I had until September 30 to get it done or I’m out.” She went on to voice her concerns by stating, “I respect everyone’s decision, I really do, but to mandate it is sick and it’s scary to me in many ways.”

The ripple effect of Steele’s comments was monumental, attracting a torrent of media attention.

Steele’s legal counsel, Bryan Freedman, has been vociferous in his denouncement of ESPN and Disney’s settlement offer. In a statement via Front Office Sports, he accused the company of attempting to buy Steele’s rights, stating, “Disney and ESPN clearly admit their liability by offering to pay Sage Steele more than half a million dollars for taking away her right to free speech. The offer misses the point. Disney cannot purchase their employee’s constitutional rights no matter how powerful they think they are.”

He further lambasted the company for its purported “double standards,” questioning whether Disney would accept a monetary settlement from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who previously clashed with the company over controversial legislation.

ESPN has maintained that Steele was not suspended, and she continues to be an on-air presence during the ongoing litigation. When the network filed its settlement offer in a Connecticut state court, ESPN and Disney’s legal representation underscored that this should not be perceived as an admission of liability or acknowledgment of any damages sustained by Steele.

As the negotiations remain in a stalemate, the trial is scheduled to commence in March 2024.

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