"All Lives Matter" Not a Religious Tweet

JOOTB_FinalA California Sports Talk show host who was fired after posting a controversial tweet failed to convince a court that he was a victim of religious discrimination. It's a case that puts a spotlight on our divided politics and cancel culture.

Greg Napear was an on-air talk show host for a popular sports radio talk show in the Sacramento region for approximately 25 years. On the evening of May 31, 2020, Napear was at his home watching regional and national news broadcasts that were televising events involving protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. At approximately 8:30 p.m., DeMarcus Cousins, a former Sacramento Kings player, posted a tweet on his Twitter account that was directed at Napear and asked him: "What's your take on BLM [Black Lives Matter]?" Napear responded to Mr. Cousins' tweet with a tweet of his own: "Hey!!! How are you? Thought you forgot about me. Haven't heard from you in years. ALL LIVES MATTER…EVERY SINGLE ONE."

The following day, on June 1, 2020, the radio station informed Napear that he was suspended from his radio show. The day after that, on June 2, 2020, the station informed plaintiff that he was being terminated for cause as defined in his employment contract. The station maintained that it was terminating Napear pursuant to paragraph 6(c)(vii), which states that "the term 'Cause' shall be defined as any of the following conduct by Employee, as determined by the Company in its reasonable discretion: . . . Any act of material dishonesty, misconduct, or other conduct that might discredit the goodwill, good name, or reputation of the Company."

In his lawsuit, Napear alleged that the station's reason for terminating him was a “false and pretextual reason[]" for his termination and that he was actually terminated for expressing his sincere religious beliefs and political views. Napear contends he "has been a Christian and a practicing member of the Unitarian Universalist Church . . . his entire life." He claims that he “periodically spoke with his co-workers . . . about his religion and his faith in God," “was open about his religious beliefs and discussed the topic at work," and "often attended religious services on Sundays, and discussed this fact with his co-workers." He also alleged that his tweet was a "personal expression" of his “sincerely held Christian religious beliefs," that his tweet was "a self-evident expression" of those beliefs, and that "[m]any people . . . including . . . [plaintiff's] co-workers" and “members of the public" understood the tweet to be an expression of plaintiff's “Christian religious beliefs."

The station filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted. In its Order, the court expressed doubt that Napear's superiors knew about his religious beliefs or that the tweet was in any way religious. The court noted, "Napear identifies] the specific individuals who were involved in [his] termination [but] there is no allegation (or inference to be drawn from [Napear's] allegations) that those individuals were aware of [Napear's] religious beliefs. Indeed, [Napear] alleges that he 'always kept his religious and political beliefs to himself during radio broadcasts,' and only communicated his religious beliefs to 'former co-host, Mike Lamb, as well as Doug Christie' and 'his co-workers.' These alleged facts are an insufficient basis from which to draw an inference that individuals making the decision to terminate [Napear] were aware of his religious beliefs, let alone that those same individuals terminated [Napear] due to his religious beliefs."

The court also disagreed with Napear about the religious nature of the tweet. It ruled: "[T}he court does not agree that the purported religious nature of [Napear's] tweet was self-evident, and [Napear's] mere allegation that it was does not make it so. As [the station] points out, there is nothing contained in the tweet itself, such as a quotation to scripture, the principles of the unitarian church, other religious moniker, or a reference to plaintiff's own religion, indicating that the tweet was in any way religious in nature. In fact, [Napear's pleading] suggests that Napear's interpretation of his tweet as a statement of religious beliefs was based on his own unique perspective."

Two lessons emerge from this holding. The first is that an employee claiming religious discrimination needs to prove his employer knew about his religion. The second is, a tweet isn't religious just because the sender says it is. Courts apply an objective standard in these cases.


About The Author

Jack Greiner | Faruki Partner