Former Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick is alleging his dismissal from NBC Sports earlier this year was “anti-straight discrimination” in a lawsuit filed on Friday. Roenick was suspended and eventually fired by NBC after appearing on the Barstool podcast, where he couldn’t stop talking about how much he wanted to have sex with his co-workers — in particular his then co-host Kathryn Tappen.
“I’m swimming with my wife and Kathryn, and they’ve got their bikinis on, and they look f**kin’ smokin’. Ass and boobs everywhere. It’s great,” he said on Spittin’ Chiclets, the brand’s hockey podcast, back in December 2019.
Though the “anti-straight” part of the suit is eye-roll inducing, it’s also a pretty transparent political ploy, meant to combat recent employment protections that Roenick’s political beliefs would suggest he is firmly against.
The legalese of this starts with the Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia decision made on June 15, 2020, where the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Title VII protections against discrimination based on sex inherently extend to transgender status and sexual orientation. Here’s how the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains it:
For example, if an employer fires an employee because she is a woman who is married to a woman, but would not do the same to a man married to a woman, the employer is taking an action because of the employee’s sex because the action would not have taken place but for the employee being a woman. Similarly, if an employer fires an employee because that person was identified as male at birth, but uses feminine pronouns and identifies as a female, the employer is taking action against the individual because of sex since the action would not have been taken but for the fact the employee was originally identified as male.
So Roenick would have to prove that if a woman who was married to a woman and employed by NBC Sports went on a Barstool podcast and said she couldn’t stop think about having sex with both her wife and her co-host Kathryn Tappen, she wouldn’t be fired for doing so. He would then have to prove that his status as a heterosexual man is the basis for this discrimination.
What his team does have is the incident at NBC Sports earlier this month, when a promotional video starring figure skating commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir was criticized for being too vulgar and sexualizing. Neither Lipinski or Weir have been suspended for the incident, but the video was pulled from Lipinski’s Instagram account.
There are obvious key differences here, however. The video was meant to be satirical, featuring Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as their well-known characters from the Pitch Perfect films. The video is needlessly vulgar, to be sure, but ill-conceived satire is not going to be weighted the same as a man publicly announcing that he wants to have sex with a woman he works with. The power dynamics are vastly different.
Another major difference is that this is an internal issue, as the video was an advertisement for Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, whereas Roenick was representing them on a podcast owned by Barstool. NBC had the final say in what went public with Lipinski and Weir video, some of which may have been scripted. What Roenick said is undeniably a representation of himself and his thoughts and he knowingly broadcast that in a largely unfiltered medium.
According to Roenick, though, his thoughts were also under fire from the media company. The lawsuit claims that Roenick’s political support of Donald Trump was one of the reasons for his firing. There are no federal protections for political affiliations and given the role this lack of protection played during the Red Scare, this case is unlikely to be the one to set a new precedent, should it ever get that far.
As for New York, where the suit was filed, there are limited protections, but it comes down to a very narrowly defined “political activity,” that has more to do with actively participating in politics as opposed to simply having political affiliations. Roenick asking for permission to speak at the 2016 Republic National Convention might not fit that category very neatly.
The suit rounds out with an allegation against NBC for breach of contract. Roenick claims to have been fired without just cause and without an opportunity to correct the behavior. They’ll have to argue that sexual harassment isn’t considered just cause and that the cause was actually retaliation and discrimination.