A Winnipeg radio show host who was fired for making transgender-phobic comments on air continues to claim his former employer praised and encouraged his behaviour up until his termination.
Christopher Wheeler Johnson, known as Dave Wheeler, is suing Rogers for $1.4 million for alleged wrongful dismissal, even though the company says he was repeatedly warned and previously suspended for misconduct while he hosted Wheeler in the Morning on 92.1 CITI.
Rogers is defending itself against the lawsuit, saying Wheeler's actions led to advertisers pulling ads from the station and left Rogers vulnerable to sanctions for his violations of broadcasting standards and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Other Rogers employees threatened to resign if Wheeler wasn't fired in the wake of his on-air remarks likening transgender people to actors "pretending to be different things" and his subsequent defence of those comments on social media in which he compared being trans to a human being pretending to be a dog.
"He was entitled to be goofy, loud, raucous and rumbustious but not to be editorially 'controversial.' In any event, it was made clear to the plaintiff (Wheeler) repeatedly that he was not to conduct himself in the manner which led to his dismissal." -Rogers' statement of defence
"Despite repeated training, warnings and even a suspension, Wheeler proved incorrigible in failing to comply with the provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act and appropriate journalistic ethics and standards," the company stated in a statement of defence filed in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench Nov. 5.
Wheeler was specifically warned not to make any further comments about his on-air remarks, but he responded to a listener on Facebook soon afterward, Rogers says.
In his claim against his former employer, Wheeler said he's owed lost earnings — he was being paid $335,000 a year on a five-year contract — and financial damages because Rogers encouraged him to be "controversial."
"He was entitled to be goofy, loud, raucous and rumbustious but not to be editorially 'controversial.' In any event, it was made clear to the plaintiff (Wheeler) repeatedly that he was not to conduct himself in the manner which led to his dismissal," Rogers' statement of defence says.
The company cited two previous incidents leading up to his July 2018 firing in which Wheeler was forced to apologize to listeners, given disciplinary warnings and suspended. He was suspended for one day after creating two YouTube videos in April 2016, Rogers says, "which were denigrating to women and embodied racist and sexist stereotypes." The company says Wheeler was made to apologize to listeners, specifically Winnipeggers from the two neighbourhoods he stereotyped.
Three days after Rogers filed its defence in court, lawyers for Wheeler issued a reply, claiming he wrote the songs featured in the videos — North End Boys and Transcona Girls — but that the videos were produced, broadcast and uploaded to YouTube by Rogers.
Wheeler claims Rogers kept him off the air with pay after the videos prompted backlash, but "at all times conveyed to Wheeler that Rogers approved of the content of the videos and that the controversy they were creating was good for ratings. At no time was Wheeler punished, admonished or reprimanded whatsoever for the videos, but rather received praise by Rogers."
Rogers says it gave Wheeler a disciplinary reprimand after he verbally attacked a colleague and released confidential information on the final day of his television show in August 2017 while he complained about Rogers' decision to end his television show and said his ideas were censored.
Wheeler denies he was reprimanded. His reply filed in court says he had a dispute with a female television producer whom he referred to as a "blackhole of comedy" and that he was later asked not to make such comments about Rogers' employees on air.
No court hearing dates have been set for the legal dispute.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.