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Fired Bill O'Reilly Adversary Loses Civil Rights Claim Against Comcast

Appeals court rejects a lawsuit from a former 'Extra!' correspondent who claimed that Comcast's decision to fire him after he lobbied against an Emmy award for Bill O'Reilly constituted a violation of his free speech protections.

Bill O'Reilly
M. Von Holden/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Barry Nolan, a Massachusetts TV newsman who was formerly a senior correspondent on the entertainment news show Extra!, is learning the hard way the price for organizing a campaign against Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court's decision to throw out a civil rights lawsuit that Nolan filed against Comcast for allegedly firing him after he did nearly everything in his power to protest a prestigious award being given to O'Reilly by the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Nolan, himself an Emmy award winner, was set off in 2008 upon learning that O'Reilly was to receive the Governor's Award at that year's Emmy Awards ceremony in Boston.

He couldn't stand for that; so he sent a lengthy e-mail from his work address to other NATAS members decrying "an appalling and deeply offensive lapse in judgment" that "would legitimize the buffoonish excuse for journalism that Mr. O'Reilly presents on a nightly basis."

Afterwards, executives at CN8, the local Comcast affiliate that employed Nolan at the time, gave him warnings, but he continued to voice his displeasure with O'Reilly's selection.

His actions included giving an interview to the Boston Herald; lobbying other Emmy winners to join his "petition of protest" lest their awards be "forever tarnished"; attacking online critics of his efforts; printing and distributing pamphlets at the Emmy Awards ceremony detailing O'Reilly's past behavior -- including details of a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Fox News personality; and walking out of the Emmy Awards as O'Reilly was announced, before his staff garnered their own glory at the ceremony that night.

For that, he was suspended.

The network then received a letter from O'Reilly where the TV host (who often rails against Comcast's MSNBC) wrote: "We at The O'Reilly Factor have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC."

Comcast executives apologized to O'Reilly. 

Later, after Nolan agreed to let Extra use some of his staff, despite his suspension, Nolan was terminated, which triggered a lawsuit contending that Comcast had violated the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA) and interfered with his right to free speech.

A district court granted Comcast summary judgment, and now upon review, the First Circuit Court of Appeals finds that the termination of his employment didn't constitute "coercion" under the MCRA. 

According to the decision:

"Nolan's employment agreement, whether or not creating 'at-will employment under Massachusetts law, provided Comcast with discretion to terminate the agreement so close in substance to at-will employment that we cannot imagine the Supreme Judicial Court finding coercion in these circumstances. Because the record, viewed in the light most favorable to Nolan, thus fails to show actionable 'threats, intimidation or coercion' by Comcast, Nolan's claim under the MCRA necessarily fails."

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner

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