A gay weatherman who was fired by a Minnesota news station after calling out anti-lockdown protesters is suing his former employer, accusing the station of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Sven Sundgaard had worked for NBC affiliate KARE 11 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for 14 years when the station fired him in May last year after he shared a post on Facebook criticizing right-wing gun protesters for be gathered outside the governor’s home to demand an end to the state’s stay-at-home order.
KARE 11 said it had “made the decision to part ways” with Sundgaard after “continued violations of KARE11’s news ethics and other policies”.
Read more: Gay meteorologist fired after calling out armed lockdown protesters in Minnesota
Now Sundgaard has filed a lawsuit against KARE 11 and station owner Tegna, alleging he was discriminated against because of his sexuality and religious beliefs.
Sundgaard also alleges defamation, a hostile work environment and violation of Minnesota human rights law in her lawsuit.
He is seeking at least $320,000 in back wages from the day he was fired, if the trial takes place by next May, plus an additional $25,000 in damages, Pioneer press reports.
Sundgaard was hired by KARE 11 in 2006 and began dating his co-workers in 2007.
That same year, he made the cover of Lavender, a local LGBTQ magazine, leading Tom Lindner, KARE 11’s news director at the time, to get “angry” and ask, “What are people going to think?” Sundgaard said he filed a complaint with human resources, but got no response from KARE 11 or its parent company, Tegna.
In 2011, he alleges that Lindner sent a “hostile email” which was copied to “numerous colleagues” after Sundgaard took part in a promotional photo shoot. They later argued in Lindner’s office, during which he claims Lindner told him, “Fuck off my office.”
Sundgaard reported the incident to Human Resources, but again heard nothing. Lindner was fired the following month.
In his lawsuit, he claims managers wanted ‘to know where he was at all times’ and alleges several other instances where he believes he was abused because of his sexuality and past complaints.
Sundgaard says he was repeatedly denied permission to attend conferences to maintain his membership in the American Meteorological Society and alleges that, unlike his colleagues, he was forced to pay the costs of trip.
In 2017, he requested time off to speak to the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), but was repeatedly denied permission. Sundgaard also claims that KARE 11 refused requests for leave to be with her mother, who was suffering from cancer, on her birthday. She later died.
Sundgaard said he told the news director he would contact Tegna about the abuse. He then received a warning for subordination and unacceptable behavior.
After receiving the warning, he sent an email to senior management accusing them of “mistreatment, double standards and singling out”.
Sundgaard later received a written warning for “bad judgment” for making a “sexually charged” comment on air, after responding to a story about which state, Minnesota or Wisconsin, had more lakes by saying: “I guess size really matters. ”
In his lawsuit, Sundgaard said “similar incidents of differential treatment toward” him were “based, in part, on his sexual orientation and prior reports of discrimination or harassment.”
“No matter how many times he reported, the hostility and differential treatment continued,” the lawsuit states.
Sundgaard also alleges that he was abused because of his faith. He converted to Judaism in 2010, after being raised a Christian.
In 2011, he claims former news director Jane Helmke asked him if he “still believed Jesus was the Messiah”, a comment he called “invasive” and “put him uncomfortable”.
In a statement released through his lawyers, Sundgaard, who was hiring in August 2020 by Minnesota news site Bring Me The News, said he was “overwhelmed and forever grateful for the outpouring of support I have received over the past year.”
“While a trial is not ideal for anyone, I think it is important to take steps to prevent what happened to me from happening to others,” he said. “I do it too, for the countless young people who have thanked me for being an openly gay man, which makes it easier for them to be true to themselves. My late mother always taught me to stand up for myself.
KARE 11 denied Sundgaard’s claims in a statement released to the media.
“One of our core values as a station is inclusion,” the station said. “We are committed to maintaining a respectful workplace free from all forms of discrimination and harassment.”
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