By Brandon M. Long
One day after the 2017 Australian Open match between Venus Williams and Stefanie Voegele, Doug Adler, tennis commentator hired by ESPN Productions, Inc. (ESPN) was fired. In a lawsuit filed to the Superior Court of California County of Los Angeles, Doug Adler issued five complaints for cause of action against the defendants listed as ESPN, Mark Gross, Jamie Reynolds and DOES 1 through 50, with the primary cause of action for wrongful termination of employment.
Doug Adler, plaintiff, is a former All-American tennis player from the University of Southern California (USC), formerly a world ranked professional tennis player in singles and doubles, and since 2002 was involved in tennis broadcasting. Doug Adler was hired and became a member of ESPN starting in 2008. The parties that the suit has been filed against are ESPN. Similarly, as does the DOE 1-20. DOES 21-50 are also related entities under the ESPN umbrella. The remaining two defendants involved are Mark Gross who is the Senior Vice President for Production and Remote Events and Jamie Reynolds who is the Vice President of Production at ESPN. Mark Gross ensures the production for ESPN’s television networks based in the United States. Jamie Reynolds initial responsibility is to over watch ESPN’s tennis portfolio.
The basis of this suit is focused around Adler’s use of the term “guerrilla” as an adjective verses the implied term of “gorilla” as a racial slur against Venus Williams and which resulted in the termination of Doug Adler’s ESPN contract. Extending back to a tennis commercial aired in the 1990s by Nike with the title “Guerrilla Tennis” the term “guerrilla tennis” has been used by individuals connected to tennis; including journalists, broadcasters, athletes and fans. With the term “guerrilla” serving as way to describe an aggressive way of competing by tennis players resulting in errors of their opponent.
The Cause of Actions
Doug Adler brings forth five cause of actions against ESPN, Mark Gross, Jamie Reynolds and DOE 1-50. The first is for the wrongful termination of employment. In the intent of protecting the image of ESPN, the defendants fired Doug Adler without investigating the incident surrounding the use of the word “guerrilla” or “gorilla”. Doug Adler held an employment agreement with ESPN and DOES 1-50, which ESPN promised that Adler will only be discharged for worthy cause. Adler claims that due to the wrongful termination he has been labeled as a ‘racist’, experienced defaming, and lost other broadcasting jobs separate from ESPN. In addition to the direct results in relation to Adler’s character, he claims that he has suffered both economic and non-economic damages.
The second, action is for a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. While Adler worked for ESPN for ten years as an announcer, it was claimed that the defendants’ conduct in the firing was not in good faith or through acting fairly. It is alleged that ESPN and additional defendants took steps to pacify the members of the “Twitter-verse” and in protecting the ESPN brand instead of investigating the incident as Doug Adler was fired on the following day of the match.
In continuing, Doug Adler brings forth the third cause of action to address the intentional interference with prospective economic relations. As a direct result of being labeled a “racist”, Adler claimed that he will continue to lose broadcasting jobs and opportunities. Resulting in lost income and opportunities in sports and business. In addition, a fourth cause of action was brought suit to address the intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from the stigma attached to the allegation from the suspected term that he used to describe Venus Williams instead of her style of play. Through the intentional interference by the defendants toward Adler and his ability in securing probable economic dealings due to the misconduct in his firing, he will continue to experience severe economic and non-economic damages experienced.
Finally, Doug Adler brings forth the cause of action for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. While ESPN fired Adler the ensuing day after requiring a public on-air apology for the use of the world “guerilla”, although it was believed that the term “gorilla” was used, Adler also claimed that as a result of the moment of being fired that the public would accept ESPN actions and label him as a “racist”. These actions brought forth, including the fifth cause of action, alleges the misconduct toward Adler by ESPN et al.
As the case of Doug Adler v ESPN Production, Inc. et al. proceeds forward, Adler seeks seven reliefs as a result of the alleged intentional and negligent conduct by the defendants. ESPN and other counter defendants have yet to respond to the lawsuit. A trial date has yet to be set.
Brandon M. Long is a doctoral student at Florida State University in the Sports Management program.