Derek Daly says money ‘secondary’ issue in suit against Emmis, Colts, broadcasters

Former IndyCar driver and longtime television racing analyst Derek Daly said he’s not looking to settle a lawsuit he filed last week in Hamilton County against Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications Corp., the Indianapolis Colts, former Colts game announcer Bob Lamey and Emmis on-air sports personality Joe Staysniak.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified punitive damages, but Daly told IBJ on Tuesday the money is “secondary.”

“It is our aim to have the truth come out,” Daly said.

Daly was fired from his 30-year job as racing analyst at WISH-TV Channel 8 in August 2018 over a racial slur he made in the early 1980s. Daly has not denied making the slur, but contends Lamey was completely inaccurate in his retelling of the incident. That retelling, which included the slur, also cost Lamey his job with the Colts. He retired, at age 80, within days of making the remark.

When asked if he is ready to take the case to court, Daly responded: “We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to get the truth out.”

In his most recent lawsuit, Daly claims that Emmis, Staysniak and Lamey “conspired to conceal true facts of the events of Aug. 14, 2018, and what was said by Lamey and Staysniak about Daly’s comments from some 35 years prior …”

Daly, 67, claims in the lawsuit that Emmis officials, Lamey and Staysniak lied “to protect Lamey from a defamation lawsuit and to protect Staysniak from damages to his business reputation, which would have been a result of a truthful retelling of the events of some 35 years earlier.”

Staysniak and Emmis deny the allegations being made by Daly. In a statement, Emmis said it would consider filing counterclaims against Daly.

When reached Tuesday by IBJ, Lamey declined to comment.

Colts officials said they couldn’t comment on an ongoing legal matter.

Daly is being represented in the lawsuit by local attorney Timothy R. Stoesz, who declined to comment on the suit.

In his lawsuit, Daly claims Lamey, on Aug. 14, 2018 — while still working as a Colts broadcaster — recounted a story off the air to Staysniak and attributed racially inappropriate comments made in the story to Daly. The story was overheard by Emmis employee Sharlene Birdsong, who complained to Emmis officials.

Daly told IBJ that the story Lamey recounted was not accurate and did not properly put Daley’s use of the n-word in context.

Daly, who was born in Ireland, told IBJ what he said to a broadcaster while he as still a driver more than 35 years ago was part of a common “Irish colloquialism.” In a previous interview with IBJ, Daly said he did not understand at the time that the saying was racially insensitive or offensive in America. He said he quickly learned about the derogatory nature of the word and has not used it since.

“In the early 80’s, after I had recently relocated to the United States, I was interviewed by radio reporter Larry Henry and I was asked about my situation with my new American team,” Daly said in an email to IBJ in 2018. “I responded by explaining that I was a foreign driver now in America, driving for an American team, with an American crew, and with an American sponsor — and that if things did not go well, the only ‘n***** in the wood pile’ would be me.  At the time, I meant that I, as the new foreigner on the team, would shoulder the blame and I would be the scapegoat. This was not in any way shape or form meant to be a racial slur.”

In February 2019, Daly sued WISH-TV and its then-parent Nexstar Media Group over his firing. He initially sued for $25 million, then later amended the suit to take the amount out. That lawsuit is ongoing.

Daly’s suit says Birdsong contradicted what Lamey and Staysniak said in their depositions in his case against Nexstar. Birdsong testified that Lamey told Staysniak that the phrase Daly used was “there aren’t any [n-words] in this race,” the suit says.

Daly’s lawsuit claims that depositions given by Lamey and Staysniak contradict Birdsong’s deposition. Both men testified that Daly used the phrase, “I’ll be the n***** in the woodpile.”

According to the suit, Birdsong’s attorney said there was now an agreement between Birdsong and Emmis that prevented Birdsong from disclosing certain information and answering certain questions about the events of Aug. 14, 2018, and thereafter.

“The whole key to this lawsuit is that we believe Sharlene Birdsong, and we have reason to believe Sharlene Birdsong,” Daly told IBJ.

Daly says in the lawsuit he has a recorded admission of Lamey saying what Birdsong reported Daley said is true, and not what Lamey said in the deposition. That recording, Daly said, was made during a lunch he and Lamey had at Rick’s Boatyard on Dec. 18, 2019.

“I got fired for being the source of Lamey’s story, which is erroneous,” Daly said. “That’s the key that most people don’t understand at this stage.”

Staysniak said he is ready to fight the lawsuit.

“The allegations made against me by Derek Daly in a complaint filed in Hamilton County court are completely false,” Staysniak said in a written statement. “Derek Daly claims that I was involved in some sort of conspiracy to commit fraud against him. I deny those allegations. I have never engaged in any conduct like that. I testified truthfully under oath during my deposition in a case Derek Daly brought against his previous employer, Nexstar and WISH-TV, about what I heard Bob Lamey say back in 2018.”

Staysniak said he was disappointed by the legal action.

“Derek Daly and I have been friends and colleagues for many years,” he said. “That’s why I’m particularly saddened and disappointed that he brought this baseless lawsuit naming me as a defendant. I hold myself to an extremely high degree of professionalism and I take my work and my reputation in this community very seriously. I’m not going to talk a whole lot about this pending case, but I will be fighting back hard against these false allegations against me and Emmis.”

Emmis said it would defend itself against the suit.

“Daly’s attempt to sue innocent parties as part of his ongoing feud with his previous employer is both factually and legally without basis,” the company said in a statement. “Emmis stands behind Joe Staysniak, who is well known as “Big Joe,” and who has served Indianapolis loyally both as a Colts player and as on-air talent for Emmis for more than 25 years. Emmis will not be intimidated by these misguided litigation tactics and will aggressively defend itself, its employees, and their reputations, including evaluating counterclaims against Daly for filing such frivolous claims and allegations.”

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