SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The New York Stock Exchange fired a managing director because he appeared on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” for a “faux interview” about the Affordable Care Act, the former manager claims in court.
Todd Wilemon claims he was fired because his bosses disagreed with the progressive politics espoused on Stewart’s show. He says he knew the risks of appearing on the satirical news show, but went ahead because of his interest in the health-care debate.
But the NYSE “terminated Mr. Wilemon’s employment as a result of Mr. Wilemon’s participation in legal political activities,” he says.
Wilemon sued the Intercontinental Exchange and its subsidiaries NYSE Euronext and NYSE Group, on March 12 in Superior Court.
Before he was sacked, on March 14, 2104, Wilemon worked for the NYSE for more than five years, the last three of them as a managing director, he says in the complaint. He worked in the NYSE’s San Francisco office, which also houses its NYSE Arca Options Exchange.
Wilemon claims that his firing violated California laws that protect the political freedom of employees.
“Occasionally, Mr. Wilemon appeared on Fox News and Fox Business television programs to discuss issues involving investment, economics and politics,” he says in the complaint.
Wilemon acknowledges that he did not seek NYSE approval to appear in “The Daily Show” segment, but says he was not required to.
“He understood that when he was speaking with or on the media as a representative of NYSE or defendants generally, he was subject to the NYSE corporate policy which required general advance approval to speak on behalf of the NYSE in, to and on the media,” the complaint states.
“This policy did not require specific approval of media appearance in advance,” he says, adding that he “was permitted to make appearances to speak on behalf of NYSE on Fox, Al Jazeera and local news programs without obtaining specific advance approval for those appearances.”
He says he insisted that “The Daily Show” refer to him as a Fox News commentator rather than an employee of the NYSE.
The segment that got him canned aired on March 6, 2014. It starts with a string of clips showing politicians extolling the U.S. health care system and lambasting the Affordable Health Care Act .
When “Daily Show” correspondent Aasif Mandvi asks Wilemon about the consequences of the Affordable Health Care Act, Wilemon replies that it will lead to longer waits for care and a decline to Third-World standards.
The set-up comes when Mandvi tells Wilemon about a recent visit he made to a “place with shockingly poor health care conditions.”
Mandvi describes a place where “they’re stilling reeling from the loss of a civil war. A quarter of the young people are living in poverty. They have high rates of cancer, heart disease.”
Wilemon responds: “This is how bad it could get if we keep going down the path of more government control, less innovation. I don’t know if we could be that place unless a great catastrophe happens to this country.”
Mandvi shuts the trap: “I should probably mention that the place I’m talking about is Knoxville, Tennessee, in America, which has the greatest health care in the world.”
Wilemon is shown speechless and struggling to respond. He finally comments that under the new health scheme, some people will get “great” care while others will get “good” care.
Wilemon claims on camera that maybe some uninsured people in Tennessee chose not to pay for coverage and that “people like a free lunch.”
“I’ll be honest, if you’re poor, stop being poor,” he says, suggesting that the poor get high school degrees or hold down a job for at least a year.
According to his complaint, he “was aware of the political orientation of ‘The Daily Show’ and he was aware that it did not completely align with his own views. He was also aware that interviewees on the program were sometimes foils for comedic political commentary.”
He was game, even though he knew that that Mandvi would edit his comments to create “a faux interview for comic effect in order to make political points.”
“He believed that public attention needed to be directed toward the problems in the American health care system and he expected that segment, while perhaps making him the foil, would have a constructive effect on public debate,” Wilemon says in the lawsuit.
He claims that many of his comments on the finished show were not matched to actual questions Mandvi asked during taping, and that several hours of tape were pared down to around seven minutes for comedic impact.
“Mr. Wilemon knew the process, and he knew that ‘The Daily Show’ would use the process to debunk contentions by politicians claiming that the United States had the ‘best health care system in the world,'” the complaint states.
The show made its point effectively, Wilemon says, and he agreed with friends that the segment was “hilarious.”
An options trader whom Wilemon encountered after the broadcast did not agree. He “confronted Mr. Wilemon on the floor of the exchange in San Francisco, accusing him of ‘mocking the one percent. You fed into their lies about the one percent. How could you do that?'” Wilemon says in the complaint.
In the days that followed, he learned that his higher-ups were not amused either. He was fired during a conference call eight days after the segment aired. He says his boss told him he had “lost credibility with the exchange’s clients.”
He seeks more than $150,000 in damages, and punitive damages for wrongful firing, including violation of California law that prohibits employers from coercing or influencing employees to deter political participation.
He is represented by Richard Levine, with of Levine & Baker.
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