Rogers denies encouraging radio host Dave Wheeler to be controversial on the air

Winnipeg radio host Dave Wheeler lost his job after repeated warnings, training and a suspension due to his behaviour — including an incident in 2017 where he allegedly "attacked" a colleague and his station — according to a statement of defence filed by his former employer.

Former employer files statement of defence to claims made in host's $1.4-M suit

Rogers Media has filed its statement of defence to a lawsuit filed by Dave Wheeler, the former host of 92 CITI FM’s Wheeler in the Morning, who was fired in July over on-air comments he made about the transgender community. (@Wheelerj28/Twitter)

Winnipeg radio host Dave Wheeler lost his job after repeated warnings, training and a suspension due to his behaviour — including an incident in 2017 where he allegedly "attacked" a colleague and his station — according to a statement of defence filed by his former employer.

Wheeler was fired in July from his position as host of Wheeler in the Morning on 92 CITI FM, a station owned by Rogers Media, for his part in an on-air conversation about actor Scarlett Johansson pulling out of the upcoming film Rub and Tug.

He filed a $1.4-million lawsuit against his former employer in September, which suggested Rogers encouraged Wheeler to be "edgy" and "controversial."

In its statement of defence, filed on Nov. 5, Rogers said Wheeler was told from the beginning of his employment that he was to be "selective" in his comments "and was specifically coached as to acceptable and unacceptable commentary on air."

Rogers also denied Wheeler's allegations that he was encouraged to be controversial on air.

"He was entitled to be goofy, loud, raucous and rumbustious but not to be editorially 'controversial,'" the statement of defence said.

"In any event, it was made clear to to the plaintiff repeatedly that he was not to conduct himself in the manner which led to his dismissal."

Disciplined for 2017 incident 

In addition to being disciplined in 2016, with a one-day suspension over his part in two videos that embodied racist and sexist stereotypes, Wheeler was also reprimanded for an incident that happened in August 2017, according to court documents filed by Rogers.

In its statement of defence, the company says that on Aug. 18, 2017, the final day of his television program, he "attacked" a colleague and the station, released confidential information and complained his ideas were censored.

He received a written warning on Sept. 15, 2017, for misconduct in that incident.

Wheeler and his legal counsel, Matthew Duffy, filed a response to Rogers' defence on Nov. 8, which denied Wheeler was reprimanded by the station for his behaviour, other than agreeing to keep him off the air for a time due to the controversy surrounding the videos he was involved in.

"At no time was Wheeler punished, admonished, or reprimanded whatsoever for the videos, but rather received praise from Rogers," the reply says.

Further, Wheeler's reply argues that "at all times leading up to his termination, he received positive feedback, praise, and general support from Rogers."

Fired after comments about transgender community 

Wheeler was fired after he took issue on air with the pressure put on Johansson to withdraw from a film. During the segment, he compared trans people to actors "who pretend to be different things."

In a Facebook message to a woman who reached out to Wheeler in response, he defended and expanded on the statement.

"If someone is born human. And they pretend to be a dog. It is not right to agree with them for the sake of their feelings," said an image of the conversation that was posted online.

Rogers signed Wheeler to a five-year contract on Sept. 15, 2012. He was to get a $7,500 signing bonus and start with an annual salary of $255,000 that would increase by $5,000 each year over the term of the contract, plus semi-annual $10,000 ratings bonuses.

He signed a second, five-year contract with Rogers in August 2017 — about 16 months after he was suspended in 2016. His wage jumped to $335,000 per year, plus a one-time $100,000 signing bonus, according to court documents.

In its statement of defence, Rogers also disputed Wheeler's claim in his lawsuit that he was recruited by the media company.

The company claims that Wheeler was actually "anxious" to join Rogers as his contract with a competing company was almost up.

"His interview was for a position in Vancouver," the statement says.

"He was unsuccessful in obtaining that position but was then offered a position in Winnipeg which he accepted with alacrity, not having any other alternative."

About the Author

Sarah Petz

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. Her career has taken her across three provinces and includes a stint in East Africa. In 2017, she was part of a team of reporters and editors nominated for a National Newspaper Award for a feature on the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.petz@cbc.ca.