Craig James, a former professional football player and respected sportscaster, is suing Fox Sports Southwest, alleging that the broadcast network fired him because of his religious beliefs on homosexuality and marriage.
After working at the network for only a few days—and hosting one broadcast—James was terminated by Fox Sports on Sep. 1, 2013.
A senior vice president at the network suggested that the decision was based on statements James made about homosexuality and same-sex marriage—expressed more than a year prior to being hired at Fox Sports while campaigning to run for Senate.
James ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012, eventually losing to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
“We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department,” Lou D’Ermilio, Fox Sports Southwest’s senior vice president of communications, told the Dallas Morning News in early September 2013. “He couldn’t say those things here.”
In a 2012 Republican debate, James said he thinks being gay is “a choice” and that society “should not give benefits to those civil unions.”
“The fact that a major corporation would reach back into my past and hold something against me because of an honest answer that the public deserved—from me as a candidate—and fire me, that’s troubling,” James told The Daily Signal in an exclusive interview.
Companies can typically terminate employees for a range of reasons, but under the Texas Commission of Human Rights Act, it is illegal to discriminate against employees because of religion (among other characteristics such as sex, age and race).
Texas does not have employment laws protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but James maintains he did not say “one thing” about his faith while working at Fox Sports.
According to his lawyer, James has never faced discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation, either.
James said the backlash he received after Fox Sports spoke out about his termination left him “unable” to get a job in the sports broadcasting agency.
The network, he said, “pigeonholed me into this anti-gay guy.”
“My agent immediately told me I was radioactive,” James said. “If someone stepped out and hired me right now, they would have to answer to a very vocal minority.”
James has since taken a job at the Family Research Council, a conservative non-profit based in Washington, D.C., and said the situation cost him “friends, business relationships and numerous business opportunities.”
In the lawsuit, filed on August 3, James’ attorneys argue for significant damages, including “monetary relief of $100,000 or more, declaratory relief, punitive/exemplary damages and attorney’s fees.”
Yet James maintains that the lawsuit is about more than money.
“Religious liberty is on trial,” James said. “It’s really important that people recognize this isn’t about me. This is about all of us being able to enjoy our religious liberty and freedoms. That is so important.”
Fox Sports denies allegations that its decision to terminate James was based on his religious beliefs and told The Daily Signal:
[T]he decision not to use Craig James in our college football coverage was based on the perception that he abused a previous on-air position to further a personal agenda. Mr. James is a polarizing figure in the college sports community because of that perception. The decision not to use Mr. James had nothing to do with his religious beliefs and we did not discriminate against him in any way. Fox respects every person’s right to freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination in any form, including discrimination based on religion. The allegations are baseless and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them.
When asked specifically about the senior vice president’s interview with the Dallas Morning News shortly after the network parted ways with James, Fox Sports declined to comment.
James says his situation reflects a growing trend in corporate America, to “hold down” politically unpopular opinions.
“What I believe has happened is we’ve got more employers being emboldened to hold down employees of religious belief systems, particularly Christians,” James said. “They are holding it against a Christian for their belief, and that’s not right.”
Hiram Sasser, who is one of James’ lawyers at the conservative Liberty Institute, argued that in today’s political environment, it’s almost impossible to work at a “Fortune 500” company and hold religious views about marriage.
If you work for a Fortune 500 company and you have religious beliefs that compel you to believe in traditional marriage and you have expressed those beliefs in a public forum, there’s only two reasons you haven’t been fired: One is your boss doesn’t know about it. Or two, which is related to that, is that no one has come after you to try to get your boss to fire you.
Fox Sports has until the end of the month to respond to the lawsuit.