Fox News is asking a federal judge to toss out a former Capitol Hill reporter’s claim that he was fired after complaining about the network’s coverage of the aftermath of he 2020 presidential election and the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
In a lawsuit filed last month, Jason Donner alleged that he was fired after complaining, in writing, to Fox News’ human resources department and to his supervisor, NuNu Japaridze. He also alleged that he was terminated for calling in sick, in violation of a District of Columbia sick leave law.
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“Once the inflammatory rhetoric is stripped out of the Complaint, it is apparent that Plaintiff Jason Donner has no actionable claims against his former employer,” Fox News attorneys wrote in a motion to dismiss.
They contend that Donner’s claim that the company violated a provision of the D.C. human rights law that prohibits discrimination based on political affiliation does not apply in this case.
“To the contrary, accepting for purposes of this motion that everything alleged in the Complaint is true (which it is not), Plaintiff has alleged, at most, that he was terminated due to his personal disagreement with how FNN approached its news coverage,” the attorneys wrote.
D.C.’s human rights law does “not protect employees of news media organizations based on their differences of opinion over reporting and commentary on matters of public concern,” they wrote, and the law itself extends only “to the status of membership in or endorsement of a political party.”
Donner was terminated on Sept. 28, 2022 and was given two reasons, that he was late to work and did not show up to work. His lawsuit stated that he had called in sick two days earlier, as he was experiencing the after-effects of the Covid vaccine.
“However, the only specific communication concerning his absence that he identifies was on the next day, September 27, 2022, when [his supervisor] Ms. Japaridze was forced to call him for an explanation,” the Fox News attorneys wrote. “Plaintiff concedes that during that call, his supervisor believed he was “irresponsible” in the way he handled the issue.”
Fox’s attorneys also contend that Donner failed to comply with the notice provisions of the D.C. sick leave law. They wrote that Donner was not denied sick leave, and that, earlier in 2022, he had been allowed to go on medical leave “without incident.”
Donner “entirely ignores that he was given multiple reasons for his termination, including that he had been late to work. Plaintiff, however, does not allege that he was late to work in connection with protected sick leave.”
In his lawsuit, Donner’s attorneys wrote that in August, 2022, he met with HR for more than two hours over Zoom, and “complained about the false reporting by Tucker Carlson and the toxic environment
it breeds at Fox News, as well as the lack of support from the network for reporters.”
Donner’s attorneys claim that his firing was a pretext based on his political views and affiliation, and because he refused to report false information about the 2020 election and about January 6th.
They wrote that when he was told he was fired “because he was late for work and did not show up for work,” he asked for examples and D.C. bureau chief [D.C. bureau chief Bryan] Boughton said, “‘we don’t need any.'”
“Ultimately, Fox News wanted to purge the news division of any staff that would not get in line with the directive to only report information that appease the Trump supporters and former President Trump,” Donner’s lawsuit claimed.
Donner now works as senior adviser to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
His lawsuit claimed wrongful termination, as well as discrimination and retaliation under the D.C. Human Rights Act. The lawsuit was filed in D.C. Superior Court, but Fox News removed it to U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as other relief.
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