A former ESPN tennis analyst who sued the sports network after being fired in January due to his description of Venus Williams’ style of play won a round in court this week when a judge ruled he does not have to turn over copies of his income tax returns to the defense.
Doug Adler maintains his use of the word “guerrilla’’ was misinterpreted by some critics, many on social media, who thought he was using the racially offensive term “gorilla’’ regarding the Black tennis star and her performance in the Australian Open.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Feffer said state law protects citizens from forced disclosure of tax-related documents and that there was no evidence Adler had waived that privilege.
“I’m not going to invade that privilege based on the facts so far,” Feffer said.
The judge also noted that Adler had produced alternative financial information such as W-2 forms filed by ESPN and other employers as well as 1099 documents stating income he received from sources other than his employers.
Feffer said that Adler, as a broadcaster, can have his work documented easier than those who work in other occupations.
ESPN lawyer Raymond Bertand argued the state and income tax returns were necessary because Adler is claiming $1.5 million in lost future income and that the documents he has turned over to date add up to “2 plus 2 equaling 10.’’
The allegations in Adler’s complaint, filed Feb. 14, include wrongful termination and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Although tennis experts commonly use the term “guerrilla tennis’’ to describe aggressive tactics, ESPN “bowed to the Twitter universe of haters and those ignorant of tennis who thought (Adler) used the word gorilla to describe Venus Williams that day,’’ according to his lawsuit.
ESPN Senior Vice President Mark Gross and the network’s vice president, Jamie Reynolds, are also named as defendants.
The lawsuit also alleges that other employers have shunned Adler following ESPN’s firing of him shortly after the Jan. 18 Williams match.
“He has not been able to get work since his termination,” Adler attorney Sonya Ostovar told Feffer.
“Guerrilla Tennis” was the name of a Nike TV commercial in the 1990s
featuring Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
In his court papers, Bertrand states that Adler “issued an apology on Jan. 19 saying he was speaking about Ms. Williams’ tactics and strategy and that he chose the wrong word to describe her play.”
The network “concluded that he should have been more careful in his word selection and (ESPN) exercised the right remove him from providing announcer services for the remaining three days of ESPN’s coverage of the Australian Open,’’ according to Bertrand’s court papers.
Adler lives in Los Angeles and was an All-American player at USC. He was hired by ESPN in 2008 and covered the U.S. Open, French Open and Wimbledon. He alleges the network ruined his sterling reputation cultivated over 40 years, during which he announced some 3,000 matches.