The New York Post fired NFL reporter Bart Hubbuch after he posted a tweet criticizing the new President. Hubbuch has now taken a page from the Donald Trump playbook; Hubbuch has sued the Post.
The lawsuit, which was passed along to PFT by sports law attorney Daniel Wallach, alleges that the Post violated New York Labor Law Section 201-d, which makes it “unlawful for any employer . . . to discharge from employment . . . an individual . . . because of . . . an individual’s legal recreational activities outside work hours, off of the employer’s premises and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property.”
Hubbuch claims that he was fired after posting a tweet “on his own time, from his own computer, and from his own home” that compared the inauguration of President Trump to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 by listing the month, day, and year of the three occasions.
“Not known for its sensitivity,” the lawsuit alleges at Paragraph 3, “the Post regularly exploits tragedy, violence and death to sell news. It also pushes the bounds of what is considered appropriate news coverage.”
Also, Paragraph 4 repeats a past public remark from a Post supervisor that “[w]e like to be pirates.”
“In keeping with its tabloid style, the Post has sensationalized the actual or perceived the fault of democratically elected leaders by running covers showing them dressed up like tyrants responsible for murder, torture and repression,” Hubbuch alleges at Paragraph 5.
Even without that reputation or reality of the Post, the core allegation remains that Hubbuch made the remark “outside of work, on his own time, under his own name, in his own home, from his own Twitter feed, and without the use of any of the Post’s equipment or other property,” as explained in Paragraph 8.
Hubbuch further claims at Paragraph 13 that he was told he wouldn’t be fired if he apologized for the tweet, and he did apologize. He also compares his firing to the opinions expressed by the Post when ESPN fired Curt Schilling and apparently removed him from a documentary for sending controversial tweets, calling the former “petty and childish” and the latter “full[y] Stalinist.”
The lawsuit suggests that the decision to fire Hubbuch was “influenced by [Post owner Rupert] Murdoch’s interest in pleasing Trump and not upsetting him, now that Trump has the power to either directly benefit or harm Murdoch and 21st Century Fox.”
Although the Post will surely try to claim that the decision was motivated by other incidents of alleged misconduct, it’s clear from the statement provided by the Post to PFT last week that the Trump tweet was the trigger for the termination: “Mr. Hubbuch has engaged in a pattern of unprofessional conduct and exhibited serious lack of judgment, including most recently showing disrespect for the victims of Pearl Harbor and 9/11.”
Thus, this case will turn on whether Hubbuch’s conduct falls within the scope of the legal provision that protects employees against termination for engaging in “legal recreational activities outside work hours, off of the employer’s premises and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property.” If it does, he should win; if it doesn’t, he should lose.
If Hubbuch wins, he could get his job back. In addition to seeking an award of monetary damages, Hubbuch requests reinstatement to his position.