Meteorologist Sven Sundgaard is suing KARE 11 and its parent company, TEGNA, saying he was fired last year because of his sexual orientation and religious beliefs.
In the lawsuit filed Thursday, Sundgaard's attorneys, Joni Thome and Frances Baillon, claim that the station's human resources department routinely ignored the weatherman's reports of discrimination and harassment.
The lawyers allege that a former news director made their client feel "very uncomfortable" shortly after he converted to Judaism in 2010 when she asked him if he still believed that Jesus was the Messiah.
The suit also claims that a former news director made a hostile comment toward him in 2007 when the meteorologist appeared on the cover of Lavender magazine, a Twin Cities publication that covers the LGBTQ community.
KARE and TEGNA are denying the allegations.
"One of our core values as a station is inclusion," a KARE spokesperson said in an e-mail Friday afternoon. "We are committed to maintaining a respectful workplace free from all forms of discrimination and harassment."
Sundgaard, who now reports weather stories for the website Bring Me the News, also cited an incident in which the station and TEGNA allegedly made it difficult for him to be a guest speaker at a national convention for LGBTQ journalists.
The lawsuit also states that KARE reprimanded him for making a "size really does matter" joke on air when doing a story on whether Minnesota or Wisconsin has more lakes.
After a meeting addressing that 2017 on-air quip, Sundgaard says he told a human resources director that he was not going to be treated and terminated like Kim Insley, a former news anchor whose dismissal was regarded by some viewers as a case of age discrimination.
At the time of Sundgaard's dismissal last May, the station said it had decided to "part ways" with him "due to continued violations of KARE 11's news ethics and other policies."
Specifics weren't given, but he triggered heated discussion on social media by reposting a comment from Minneapolis Rabbi Michael Adam Latz about the anti-Semitic actions of gun-toting protesters in the Midwest who objected to coronavirus quarantine orders, calling them "white nationalist Nazi sympathizer gun fetishist miscreants."
In the lawsuit, Sundgaard's lawyers say their client received a slew of threats and brazenly homophobic comments and messages on social media. U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis tweeted: "Today's forecast: mostly sunny w/ a chance of idiocy ... @kare11 should fire him!"
Sundgaard says he removed the repost from his Facebook page that night and expressed regret to management. He said he told them that he would stick to posting about the weather and that he was willing to discuss a remedy to stop the hostility.
He was fired the following day.
The lawsuit is asking for compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages to be determined at trial. It claims that Sundgaard suffered and continues to suffer emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, pain and suffering.
Born and raised in the Twin Cities, Sundgaard joined the station in 2006 after a stint in Duluth.
"I've been overwhelmed and forever grateful for the outpouring of support I have received over the last year," Sundgaard said in a statement Friday. "I hope to continue to receive your support as I embark upon this difficult journey that will highlight the unfair treatment to which I was subjected. While a lawsuit is not ideal for anyone, I believe it is important to take action to prevent what happened to me from happening to others. I do this also, for the countless young people who have thanked me for being an openly gay man, making it easier for them to be true to themselves. My late mom always taught me to stick up for myself."
Staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.
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