ESPN files motion to dismiss Sage Steele's free speech lawsuit

ESPN filed a motion Thursday to dismiss anchor Sage Steele's lawsuit against the company, according to the Washington Post.

Steele filed a lawsuit against ESPN in April, claiming the network violated her free-speech rights. 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.

Steele reportedly received an on-air suspension last year after questioning ESPN's COVID-19 vaccine policy during an appearance on former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's podcast. Steele said it was "sick and scary" that the company mandated the vaccine for employees.

During that appearance, Steele also made a controversial comment about former President Barack Obama's father and suggested women "need to be held responsible as well" when they receive inappropriate comments about the way they dress.

Steele eventually issued an apology, saying she "created controversy for the company" with her comments. Steele did not specify which comments created issues at ESPN. At the time, ESPN declined to reveal whether Steele was disciplined. Thursday's filing reveals Steele did not lose pay over her comments.

Though she filed a lawsuit, Steele remains employed at ESPN. The network has used Steele as part of its Masters coverage. Steele also represented ESPN at the PGA Championship in May, where she was hit by a golf ball. Steele also continues to appear on "SportsCenter."

Sage Steele, ESPN anchor.
Sage Steele is suing ESPN, arguing the network violated her free-speech rights. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)