Sportscaster Craig James filed a legal complaint against Fox Sports Tuesday alleging that he was taken off the air because of his support for traditional marriage, as a senior VP at Fox Sports admitted to the media.
However, court filings obtained exclusively by Breitbart News show Fox Sports President Eric Shanks saying that his senior VP’s statements were false, leading James’s lawyers to say that either Shanks lied under oath, or Fox Sports is now liable for defamation.
Fox Sports President Eric Shanks admitted in a deposition that a senior VP at Fox Sports told media outlets that sportscaster Craig James was fired from the network because of his support for traditional marriage. Shanks says that statement to the press was untrue. Lawyers for James have filed a religious-discrimination legal complaint and are headed to court.
The legal complaint is with the Texas Workforce Commission, alleging James was terminated because he expressed a traditional Christian belief on marriage between a man and woman in 2012 when James was a candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas. His lawyers now also tell Breitbart News that they believe Fox Sports President Eric Shanks either lied under oath in this matter, or that Fox Sports is liable for defamation.
This is an update to Breitbart News’s Sept. 26, 2013 story on James, the former ESPN commentator who was briefly on-air with Fox Sports. As that story describes in detail, James was booted by Fox Sports after only one day of on-air coverage in which there were no incidents. The Dallas Morning News reported that the decision came from Fox Sports management’s becoming aware that James had expressed opposition to gay marriage, quoting a source as saying, “We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. You couldn’t say those things here.”
Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm specializing in free speech and religious liberty, is representing James. Their complaint is accompanied by a letter from James’s lawyers claiming:
Fox Sports engaged in direct religious discrimination against Craig James. Fox Sports announced that not only were they firing Craig James because of his sincerely held religious beliefs by telling the public his religious beliefs about marriage, but also that Fox Sports would not hire or allow anyone to work at Fox Sports who holds religious beliefs similar to Craig James.
The complaint and letter can be read in their entirety below:
The letter recounts James’s years of experience as a sportscaster, then adds he “is a man of faith and integrity” and that this faith both requires him to “show love and kindness” to other people, while also requiring him to “define marriage as between a man and a woman.”
Since Breitbart News first reported on this story in September, Liberty Institute has engaged in several months of pre-litigation discovery as allowed by Texas law, including court-ordered depositions. The deposition of Shanks – a transcript and video of which were obtained exclusively by Breitbart News from Liberty Institute – is the latest revelation in this legal complaint brought by James.
During this deposition, Shanks says (on p. 30 of the transcript and in this video clip) that the quote to the Dallas Morning News came from Lou D’Ermilio, who is later identified as a senior vice president at Fox Sports. At the end of this clip (and at p. 30-32), Shanks says that D’Ermilio reports directly to Chris Hannan, who in turn reports directly to Shanks, though adding that he does not know either of their job titles.
Later (on p. 37, and in this video clip), Shanks says that James was not taken off-air because of his gay-marriage comments, and that D’Ermilio’s statement to the press that Fox Sports yanked James off-air because of his gay-marriage beliefs are false:
Lawyer: Okay. Was Craig James terminated in part because of anti-gay comments he made while running for political office in Texas?
Shanks: No. Absolutely not.
Lawyer: So if someone said that he was or implied that he was, that would be false; correct?
Shanks: It would not be the correct statement on behalf of Fox.
Lawyer: It would be false, correct?
Shanks: It would be false, yes.
If Texas law is similar to most states’, then if James’s attorneys can prove that James has suffered any financial loss or career damage as a result of D’Ermilio’s factual claim, and if Shanks’s sworn testimony is accurate that D’Ermilio’s assertion is completely false, then Fox Sports could be liable for defamation (i.e., slander).
James’s lawyers claim to have evidence proving that James has, in fact, suffered such injuries as a result of D’Ermilio’s claim to the Dallas Morning News. Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Institute, tells Breitbart News, “It looks like Fox Sports is trying to run so fast from an employment claim capped at $300,000 [in maximium possible damages if religious discrimination is proven] that they are driving off the cliff into defamation and other common law claims that are limitless and may cost Fox Sports millions.”
If James’s claim is proven true, then this legal proceeding is the latest episode in a growing national narrative of observant Christians suffering significant career consequences for expressing a belief in marriage that has historically always been part of mainstream Christian beliefs (both Evangelical and Catholic), as well as various other faiths such as Orthodox Judaism.
As Breitbart News previously reported, the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. This latest development comes in the context of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s urging all state attorneys general that they should not defend their states’ traditional-marriage laws against legal challenges, a very unusual position given that state constitutions and state laws require that their state attorneys general do so and that it has generally been regarded as improper for the federal government to tell the states how to govern their own sovereign affairs.
The Texas commission can now either act upon the complaint or issue a letter authorizing Liberty Institute to file a lawsuit in Texas state court. Breitbart News contacted Shanks, D’Ermilio, and other senior management at Fox Sports seeking comment for this story. As of this time Fox Sports has provided no response.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.