“Guerrilla” Tennis Scandal has Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Headed Back to Court

Previously released news regarding the “guerilla” tennis scandal leading up to the termination of ESPN tennis commentator, Doug Adler, ended with his subsequent wrongful termination lawsuit filing. Now, Adler’s wrongful termination lawsuit is headed back to court.

Adler was allegedly fired from his job as a tennis commentator for ESPN for using a word on the air that he claims he never used. Adler is an acknowledged tennis expert and former All-American player turned commentator for ESPN. He covered numerous tennis events, but the one event pertaining to this discussion is the 2017 Australian Open. Adler was on air describing the aggressive style of play used by Venus Williams, one of the competitors in the match. Adler claims he used the word “guerilla,” a term known to describe aggressive tennis play.

Not surprisingly, viewers heard the word “gorilla” and assumed Adler was making a demeaning and racist comment in reference to Williams, who is African American. After receiving complaints and unable to ignore the negative backlash from the incident, ESPN fired Adler. Adler claims he was wrongfully terminated. He claims that the network was not sympathetic considering that the two words, guerilla and gorilla, spelled differently and meaning two very different things, sound exactly the same.

The wrongful termination lawsuit was filed in California state court in February 2017. On March 16th, 2017, Adler’s wrongful termination suit was moved to federal court on grounds that Adler and the Defendants, ESPN, hail from two different states. This provides the federal district court with jurisdiction in the case. ESPN also assumed that the damages the plaintiff will be seeking would surpass the $75,000 cap observed by the state court in such cases.

Yet the case met with a surprising issue when US District Court Judge Percy Anderson felt that the defendant’s statement that co-defendants Mark Gross and Jamie Reynolds resided in Connecticut “upon information and belief” of ESPN was sufficient. Judge Anderson saw this as insufficient for the purposes of the court to qualify residence and establish citizenship. As diversity jurisdiction no longer qualifies, Adler’s wrongful termination lawsuit is heading back to state court in California.

Adler has yet to specify amounts he will be seeking for damages and recovery. ESPN worked up a figure of at least $148,000 using their estimated calculations of lost wages, emotional distress, punitive damages, legal fees, etc. Although, Adler’s representation has previously pointed out that it is impossible to place a value on the loss of your professional reputation. It was further noted that ESPN, Adler’s employer, essentially labeled him a racist and terminated his employment over a comment that was, at worst, misunderstood.

If you have questions about wrongful termination or what qualifies as a wrongful termination lawsuit, please get in touch with an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.