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Radio host fired for tweeting ‘all lives matter’ can pursue retaliation claim

Grant Napear made a plausible argument that his firing was politically motivated, a judge ruled, but didn't meet the bar for a religious discrimination claim.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A sports radio host who was fired in 2020 after tweeting "ALL LIVES MATTER...EVERY SINGLE ONE" can pursue his retaliation claim against the radio station's owner.

Grant Napear, the former longtime play-by-play television announcer for the Sacramento Kings who had his own daily show on KHTK 1140AM, posted the response to a question about whether he supported Black Lives Matter in the midst of protests over George Floyd's murder.

Calling his subsequent firing from Bonneville International Corporation politically motivated, Napear sued the Salt Lake City, Utah-based media company, which is fully owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for retaliation. He made enough of an argument that his claims can proceed, U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd determined in a ruling Tuesday.

The judge didn't rule on the merits of Napear's claim, but concluded that his allegations were sufficiently plausible to survive Bonneville's request to dismiss his retaliation claim at this point in the litigation.

On Napear's religious discrimination allegation, however, Drozd sided with Bonneville, tossing out the claim because there was nothing religious about the tweet.

"Despite plaintiff’s conclusory allegation that his tweet was self-evidently religious, the court does not agree that the purported religious nature of plaintiff’s tweet was self-evident, and plaintiff’s mere allegation that it was does not make it so," the Obama-appointed Drozd wrote in the 24-page ruling.

On May 31, 2020, as protests had erupted across the U.S. in the wake of the murder of Floyd by Minneapolis police officers days earlier, former Kings player Marcus Cousins asked Napear his take on Black Lives Matter, the movement that challenges police brutality against Black people.

Napear's reply that "all lives matter" is a slogan that may appear racially neutral, but is widely perceived as a conservative repudiation of the Black Lives Matter focus on the disproportionate number of Black people who are killed by law enforcement in the U.S.

KTHK, known as the "Home of the Kings," fired Napear two days later because his comment was likely to discredit the station’s goodwill and reputation with the NBA team and the public.

"The tweet, coming as it did less than a week after the death of George Floyd, predictably ignited a firestorm of negative comments and reactions from the public, as well as past and present NBA players," Bonneville said in its motion to dismiss Napear's lawsuit.

Napear resigned from this TV job with the Kings shortly after KTHK had fired him. He sued the following year, arguing that his termination was the result of religious discrimination, purportedly because "all lives matter" reflects his Christian beliefs, and of retaliation for his political views.

The judge also allowed Napear to pursue his wrongful termination claim as far as it was premised on the retaliation allegation. He denied Napear's request to further amend his lawsuit to include a breach of contract claim because, the judge said, he could have done so when he first filed his lawsuit.

Attorneys for Napear and Bonneville International didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday on the ruling.

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