ST. PAUL -- Meteorologist Sven Sundgaard has filed a lawsuit against KARE 11 and its parent company Tegna claiming discrimination over his sexual orientation and religious beliefs. The NBC affiliate fired Sundgaard in May because of what it said were “continued violations of KARE 11’s news ethics and other policies.”
Filed Thursday, April 15, the lawsuit includes additional claims of a hostile work environment, defamation and violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Sundgaard is suing for back pay since the day he was fired, which the suit says equals at least $320,000, assuming the trial takes place in a year’s time. He’s also seeking up to $25,000 in punitive damages.
KARE 11 denied the allegations in a statement to the media: “One of our core values as a station is inclusion. We are committed to maintaining a respectful workplace free from all forms of discrimination and harassment.”
The station hired Sundgaard in 2006, and soon after he began telling his co-workers he was gay. In 2010, he converted to Judaism.
When Sundgaard appeared on the cover of local LGBTQ magazine Lavender in 2007, he said the news director at the time, Tom Lindner, was irate and asked Sundgaard, “What are people going to think?” Sundgaard said he reported the comment to human resources but never received a follow-up.
After converting to Judaism, Sundgaard said, news director Jane Helmke asked whether he “still believed Jesus was the Messiah.” Sundgaard called the comment “invasive” and said it made him uncomfortable and unsure how to respond.
The lawsuit also details an incident from early 2011 when Lindner allegedly sent Sundgaard “a hostile email regarding a promotional photoshoot Sundgaard had done, copying many coworkers.” An open-door meeting with Lindner ended with the news director screaming “Get the (expletive) out of my office,” according to Sundgaard, who said that once again a report to human resources went nowhere.
According to the lawsuit, Sundgaard reported “similar incidents of differential treatment toward him based, in part, on his sexual orientation and prior reports of discrimination or harassment. No matter how many times he reported, the hostility and differential treatment continued.”
The alleged incidents include delayed responses to time-off requests and management’s demand “to know his whereabouts at all times.”
Sundgaard claims that in 2017, management would not approve time off for him to appear as a speaker at a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association conference or to spend time with his mother, who was in treatment for late-stage cancer, on her birthday. Sundgaard claims he told the news director he was going to take up the issue with Tegna and was told it was a station decision, not a corporate decision. Soon after, Sundgaard said Tegna issued him a warning for insubordinate and unacceptable behavior.
About a week later, Sundgaard emailed upper management claiming the move was retaliatory and that, based on management’s “mistreatment, double standards and singling out” during his tenure that management did not want him to speak about his experience at the station as an openly gay on-air personality.
In November 2017, Sundgaard said management issued a written warning about his “poor judgment” for a “sexually loaded” comment he made during a newscast when he said “I guess size really does matter” in response to a news story about whether Minnesota or Wisconsin had more lakes.
The lawsuit also details what Sundgaard said are the station’s inconsistently applied social media policies. In April 2020, Sundgaard used Facebook to repost a comment from Minneapolis Rabbi Michael Adam Latz that criticized those protesting coronavirus-spurred public health restrictions around the U.S. and compared them to “white nationalist Nazi sympathizer gun fetishist miscreants.”
The repost got public attention after right-leaning website Alpha News reported on it, which led to criticism from former congressman and media personality Jason Lewis, who tweeted “Today’s forecast: mostly sunny w/ a chance of idiocy … #Covid_19 models are about as accurate as his forecasts. @kare11 should fire him!”
Sundgaard said he removed the repost that night, told management he would stick to talking about the weather on social media and that he wanted to “discuss a remedy that would stop the hostility.” Sundgaard was fired the next day.
At the time, news of Sundgaard’s dismissal made national headlines. He has since started doing forecasts on social media and for the local blog Bring Me the News.
In a statement to Bring Me The News, Sundgaard said: “I’ve been overwhelmed and forever grateful for the outpouring of support I have received over the last year. I hope to continue to receive your support as I embark upon this difficult journey that will highlight the unfair treatment to which I was subjected. While a lawsuit is not ideal for anyone, I believe it is important to take action to prevent what happened to me from happening to others. I do this also, for the countless young people who have thanked me for being an openly gay man, making it easier for them to be true to themselves. My late mom always taught me to stick up for myself.”