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Former NHL player and NBC Sports commentator Jeremy Roenick, a heterosexual man, failed to convince a New York federal judge that he was terminated because of his gender and sexual orientation — in part, because the “similar” unpunished conduct that Roenick pointed to as evidence was a scripted skit between two Olympic figure skaters that didn’t involve jokes about sleeping with a co-worker.
NBC Sports in December 2019 suspended Roenick following a guest appearance on a Barstool Sports podcast during which he made sexually charged comments about one of his colleagues. Roenick, an 18-year-NHL veteran, was under an employment agreement with NBC, his contract contained a morals clause, and, ultimately, he was terminated.
Roenick sued multiple NBC-affiliated companies, including NBC Sports Network, parent Comcast, and his former boss, arguing that he was effectively fired for being a heterosexual man and that amounted to discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. He also asserted multiple other causes of action, including breach of contract, retaliation and discrimination for engagement in political activities.
NBCSN and Comcast moved to dismiss all claims against them, while the other defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss. Roenick didn’t oppose dismissal of all claims against the two corporations, or the hostile work environment and political discrimination claims against the other defendants. (The claims against NBC Sports Group were dropped on Thursday.)
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John P. Cronan granted in part NBC’s motion to dismiss the complaint.
In order to succeed on his employment discrimination claim under New York’s human rights law, Cronan explains Roenick needed to plausibly allege the employer took adverse action against him, and that his race, color religion, sex or national origin was a motivating factor in the decision.
Roenick had pointed to an on-air conversation between NBC Olympics commentators Tara Lipinksi and Johnny Weir and actors Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins (in character as their Pitch Perfect alter egos) that contained sexual humor and resulted in no adverse action, arguing that’s proof they wouldn’t have faced the same consequences for the podcast comments because neither is a straight man.
Cronan wasn’t convinced.
“Roenick fails to show that his conduct was ‘of comparable seriousness’ to that of Lipinski and Weir,” he writes. “And a comparison of the two incidents shows that Roenick’s behavior was categorically different. Lipinski and Weir participated in a skit for NBC that included jokes about the term ‘camel toe’ and an ‘[o]ffice romance’ between ‘besties.’ Roenick, on the other hand, used his ‘free time’ outside of his role at NBC to tell the hosts of a Barstool Sports podcast that he ‘jokingly implied’ to fellow vacationers that he had sex simultaneously with his NBC co-worker, [Kathryn] Tappen, and his wife on multiple occasions. … Simply put, neither Lipinski nor Weir joked about having sex with a co-worker. Roenick did.”
The court also isn’t convinced a one-off comment allegedly made by his boss in 2018 that “Weir ‘is gay and can say whatever'” supports Roenick’s descrimination claim. (Read the full opinion below.)
Roenick’s breach of contract and retaliation claims against his former boss and NBCUniversal Media will proceed.
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