Two former ESPN employees filed a federal lawsuit against the sports media giant, alleging the company’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement violated religious freedom rights.
ESPN and the sports network’s parent company, The Walt Disney Company, are listed as defendants in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut Wednesday by former ESPN reporter Allison Williams and ex-producer Beth Faber, according to Front Office Sports.
Williams and Faber were fired by ESPN in late 2021.
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“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,” attorney Christopher Dunn wrote in the complaint, according to the outlet.
Williams has been outspoken about vaccine mandates, saying in October 2021 on Instagram while announcing her departure from ESPN that it went against her “my values and my morals.”
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“I have been denied my request for accommodation by ESPN and The Walt Disney Company, and effective next week, I will be separated from the company,” Williams said. “I’m so morally and ethically not aligned with this. I’ve had to really dig deep and analyze my values and my morals. Ultimately, I need to put them first. The irony in all this are the same values and principles I hold so dear are what made me a really good employee and probably what helped with the success I’ve been able to have in my career.”
Faber, who spent more than 30 years at the company, was fired in September 2021.
Dunn says that “no serious attempt” was made by ESPN to “accommodate them.”
Williams, who worked for Fox Sports as a college football sideline reporter last season, initially requested an exemption, saying she was “undergoing in vitro fertilization and was concerned about the potential unknown effects the vaccination would have on the fetus,” the lawsuit stated.
Days after filing that initial request on the grounds of a disability, Williams followed it up with a request for religious exemption.
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“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.”
The Supreme Court has not prevented companies from enforcing their own vaccine mandates despite blocking federal efforts to mandate the vaccine.
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More than 1,000 lawsuits have reportedly been filed regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates.