A former radio morning-show host who was fired for anti-transgender remarks is suing his former employer for $1.4 million, claiming he was wrongfully dismissed and had his reputation damaged because of his employer's "untrue" statements.
Christopher Wheeler Johnson, also known as Dave Wheeler, claims Rogers violated his employment contract by firing him in July. He had likened transgender people to actors pretending to be "different things," while on the air during his 92.1 CITI morning show, Wheeler in the Morning. He claims the Rogers-owned radio station encouraged him to be "controversial," and now owes him damages for lost earnings, bonuses, pension plan contributions and stock options he would have received during his employment.
Wheeler was being paid $335,000 a year, and he was to keep receiving that salary until September 2022 under his contract. He signed a second five-year contract with Rogers in 2017 after joining 92.1 CITI in 2012. In a statement of claim filed in Court of Queen's Bench Thursday, Wheeler said Rogers knew he had a "provocative" on-air persona when the company recruited him from competing radio station Power 97.
According to the claim, it was a term of Wheeler's employment contract with Rogers that "Wheeler's on-air persona was to be provocative and controversial and he was to push the boundaries and engage listeners in controversial social topics."
A spokeswoman for Rogers Media confirmed the company had received Wheeler’s statement of claim and stood by its decision to fire him.
"Dave Wheeler was dismissed after multiple disciplinary incidents, including a suspension. After repeated warnings, he continued to violate the company’s core values and offend our audiences. We felt we had no choice but to end our relationship with him, as we do not tolerate employees who display this type of behaviour," Andrea Goldstein wrote Thursday in an emailed statement.
Wheeler wants the court to order Rogers to pay him damages for breaching his five-year contract. He's asking $1,398,624.90 plus bonuses of $80,000. If the court doesn't agree to that, Wheeler's claim asks for a payout of two years' salary plus bonuses, which would be $710,000.
Wheeler also accuses Rogers Media of defamation. In his claim, Wheeler accuses Rogers Media of making "untrue" statements to news media in the wake of his firing, including that he had been reprimanded by the company earlier, and suggestions he had a long history of making offensive remarks.
"Rogers' media statements served to embarrass and harm Wheeler's reputation, impugn his character and interfere with his ability to carry on business in Winnipeg," the claim states. "Further, the media statements ignored the facts that, at all material times, Rogers condoned, encouraged, and promoted Wheeler for being controversial, agitating and provocative."
The claim hasn't been proven and no statement of defence has been filed. Wheeler's lawyer could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Wheeler faced a backlash for his comments during an on-air conversation on July 16 regarding actress Scarlett Johansson's decision to withdraw from a film in which she had been cast to play a transgender man.
He was suspended and fired two days later, after he repeated anti-trans comments in Facebook messages and as advertisers started to pull their ads from Rogers. There were social media campaigns that called for boycotts of his show. At the time, Rogers issued a statement apologizing for his behaviour.
"This week, radio host Dave Wheeler chose to use his platform at 92.1 CITI in Winnipeg to articulate views that are both deeply hurtful and damaging, and we sincerely apologize," Goldstein, Rogers Media's senior communications director, said in a written statement in July. "There have been multiple disciplinary incidents, and in spite of numerous conversations, he has continued to offend our audiences."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, September 20, 2018 at 7:56 PM CDT: Fixes name of radio station
September 21, 2018 at 10:58 AM: Removes reference to Rogers being unavailable for comment.