Two former ESPN employees have sued the network and its parent company, Walt Disney, over their terminations in 2021 after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
In a complaint filed in a Connecticut court on Wednesday, former ESPN reporter Allison Williams and longtime producer Beth Faber alleged that the company made “no serious attempt” to accommodate their COVID-19 exemption requests.
According to the lawsuit, Faber, who had been with the company for more than 30 years, requested an exemption to the company’s vaccine mandate in June 2021 based on her religious beliefs, saying the vaccine goes “AGAINST what God wants” her to put in her body.
ESPN denied Faber’s COVID-19 exemption request, stating that she didn’t provide “sufficient documentation” to support her request. Faber went back and forth with company executives on the issue until the network officially terminated her contract in September, the complaint says.
Faber, who was a remote radio producer for the network, also alleged that Julie Walden, a senior Human Resources specialist for the company, told her in a meeting that “maybe God has led you to a new career, when God closes a door, he opens another.”
Williams, who spent ten years as a host and sideline reporter for ESPN, also requested a vaccine exemption in August 2021 on religious grounds, citing her Christian beliefs and objecting to the vaccines’ “reliance on fetal cell lines for its development.” She also told the company that she was undergoing in vitro fertilization and was concerned about the effects the vaccine would have on a fetus.
Williams garnered headlines in September 2021 when she stepped down from her position over the vaccine mandate. ESPN officially terminated Williams’ contract in October 2021.
Her lawsuit alleges the network make no effort to accommodate her refusal to be vaccinated, noting she continue her daily duties remotely or while wearing a mask.
Both plaintiffs accuse ESPN and its parent company of violating Title VII of the civil rights act, which protects employees from discrimination based on their religious beliefs.
“Defendants failed to reasonably accommodate Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs, as
required by law, and terminated Plaintiffs under circumstances that were discriminatory in
nature,” the lawsuit says.
The latest lawsuit follows a complaint filed by current ESPN personality Sage Steele last April, alleging the network violated her free speech rights, noting how the network retaliated against her for comments she made during an appearance on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s podcast “Uncut with Jay Cutler.”
Steele referred to the company’s vaccine mandate as “sick” and told Cutler that she finds former President Obama identifying as Black “fascinating” because he was raised by his white mother and grandmother.
Both ESPN and Disney filed motions to be dismissed from that lawsuit, with Disney winning its motion in October after a Connecticut judge ruled in their favor, according to Yahoo! Sports.
A few months later, the same judge revived Steele’s claims against Disney, Bloomberg Law reported.
Both Williams, who landed gigs with the Daily Wire and Fox Sports since her ESPN departure, and Faber are seeking punitive damages in their lawsuit against the company.
ESPN declined to comment on the latest lawsuit.
Walt Disney Co.
Walt Disney Company