Reporter Barry Nolan has filed a civil rights lawsuit against former employer CN8, the Comcast Corp. regional news operation, alleging he was fired for exercising his personal free speech rights in protesting a local Emmy award for Bill O'Reilly of Fox News.
Nolan was under contract to the news operation when he was fired for insubordination on May 20 of this year. The suit alleges CN8 violated Nolan's civil rights under Massachusetts state law.
Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said the company will not comment on the specifics of the suit, filed Dec. 3 in Middlesex Superior Court in Massachusetts. However, he added the company stands by its actions and intends to defend itself vigorously against this lawsuit.
Also named in the suit are Eileen Dolente, senior director of network programming for CN8, and Jon Gorchow, vice president and general manager of the channel.
Nolan hosted Backstage with Barry Nolan for the channel. During his five years with the station, he was paid to offer his opinion and operated with "little or no direct feedback" according to the lawsuit.
He was also active in the Boston chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Annually, that chapter gives a Governor's Award to a professional for truthful commentary, insightful reporting or for promoting important public dialog.
Earlier this year, when the chapter decided to give the honor to O'Reilly, Nolan protested the selection of a person who "lacked the sort of professional integrity, fairmindedness and grasp of facts for which journalists should be known" according to the suit.
In advance of the ceremony, Nolan said he was warned by Dolente "not to make a scene" at the award ceremony. But at the event on May 10, he distributed a handout of misquotes attributed to O'Reilly paired with what Nolan said were the correct facts. The suit indicates Nolan stopped passing out the flyers when asked by NATAS chapter officials.
The following day, Nolan was suspended without pay from CN8. During the suspension, Nolan said he was asked to work on a story for the syndicated show EXTRA, with which CN8 has a cooperative working agreement. Nolan asserts he asked Dolente if he could do the work and said Dolente first e-mailed that she "agreed we should assist as you suggest" but in a second e-mail expressed a preference that Nolan refuse the gig. Since Dolente did not outright forbid Nolan from the EXTRA assignment, he worked on the story.
Channel executives asserted he was insubordinate for taking the outside work and fired him on May 20, 10 days after the O'Reilly protest, according to the suit.
Nolan is asking the court for damages he suffered. His contract would have kept him employed to May 2009. He's also seeking attorney's fees and court costs.
Since his firing, Comcast has decided to reorganize and shrink the operations of CN8. It's now become a part of Comcast SportsNet.