Former ESPN reporter Allison Williams and ex-longtime producer Beth Faber alleged in a federal lawsuit that the company’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement violated their religious freedom rights.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on Wednesday against ESPN and the network’s parent company, The Walt Disney Company, seeks unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial. The company fired Williams and Faber in late 2021.
“Forcing [the] plaintiffs to choose between continuation of their employment and a violation of their religious beliefs in order to retain their livelihoods imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ ability to conduct themselves in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” their attorney, Christopher Dunn of the firm Dunn Employment Law, wrote in the complaint.
ESPN declined to comment when reached by Front Office Sports.
Anchor Sage Steele sued ESPN last April, in part, over alleged retaliation over her comments about Disney’s COVID mandates that she called “sick and scary.” That case, in a Connecticut state court, is ongoing.
Williams, who worked college football broadcasts on Fox Sports last season, had been an outspoken critic of vaccine mandates. In October 2021, Williams announced her ESPN termination in an Instagram post with a COVID-19 resource link added by the social media company.
According to the lawsuit, Faber was terminated in September 2021 after more than 30 years at ESPN.
“There was no serious attempt to accommodate them,” Dunn told FOS. “By law there is room for people to exercise their faith.”
When the mandate was introduced at ESPN, Williams first requested an exemption on the grounds of a disability because she was “undergoing in vitro fertilization and was concerned about the potential unknown effects the vaccination would have on the fetus,” according to the lawsuit.
That request in August 2021 was followed days later by a request for a religious exemption.
“A lot of people have multiple reasons for wanting an exemption,” Dunn said. “So, it is not uncommon to see people with both the need for medical exemption and religious exemption.”
By one count, there have been more than 1,000 lawsuits filed over COVID vaccine mandates. While the Supreme Court blocked federal efforts to mandate vaccines for large employers, the high court hasn’t prevented companies from enforcing their own mandates.
The lawsuit states that while non-government entities like Disney and ESPN “would not, ordinarily, be subject to the Equal Protection clause” in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, ESPN and Disney worked “on behalf of the government” to create its COVID vaccine mandate.
“The Constitution provides that the government, and state actors cannot take life, liberty or property without due process and equal protection of the law,” the lawsuit states.
Dunn listed how Disney’s association with the U.S. military goes back to World War I and that “their partnership continues to this day in overt and covert ways.”
It should be noted that Walt Disney founded the company the bears his name in 1923, five years after end of World War I. ESPN wasn’t founded until 1979, and Disney didn’t acquire it for nearly two decades after that.
Michael McCarthy contributed to this report.