Not many Walt Disney Co. employees sue the Mouse House and retain their jobs long-term.
Just ask ESPN’s, Sage Steele.
The anchor tweeted Tuesday she’d settled her case with Disney – and was leaving ESPN after 16 years.
Steele has been battling with ESPN and Disney since she criticized their COVID-19 vaccine mandate as “sick and scary” during a 2021 podcast interview with former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler.
She sued her employers in 2022, claiming she was benched for her remarks, then forced her to apologize. Those actions violated both her contract and free speech rights, argued Steele.
According to sources, Steele was one of the highest-paid “SportsCenter” anchors in Bristol, making about $3 million a year.
She survived the recent round of layoffs at ESPN that claimed big names such as Jeff Van Gundy, Suzy Kolber, and Steve Young. But she was not long for ESPN or Disney after filing her suit. And probably knew it.
Earlier this year, Steele turned down a $501,000 offer from ESPN to settle her suit.
“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,” her attorney Bryan Freedman argued. “The offer misses the point. Disney cannot purchase their employee’s constitutional rights no matter how powerful they think they are.”
Steele was one of the few outspoken cultural conservatives at ESPN. Her departure again opens the network to criticism that it leans too far to the left politically.
“Life update. Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely,” she tweeted Tuesday. “I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”
ESPN stated the network and Steele had “mutually agreed” to part ways.
“We thank her for her many contributions over the years,” said ESPN in a statement.