Cadillac Jack sues Kicks 101.5 owner Cumulus for wrongful termination, saying boss disparaged his sexual orientation

He is seeking $732,258.05 left from his contract
060519 ATLANTA, GA - New Kicks 101.5 morning host Cadillac Jack (center) hobnobs with fans including Kyle O'Kelley, 21, of Jackson, Ga. (right) at Country Fair 2006 Friday night. The sold-out two-day fair, held at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre, is sponsored by Kicks and Eagle 106.7 and featured Jason Aldean, Pat Green and Montgomery Gentry Friday. (Rodney Ho / AJC staff)

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

060519 ATLANTA, GA - New Kicks 101.5 morning host Cadillac Jack (center) hobnobs with fans including Kyle O'Kelley, 21, of Jackson, Ga. (right) at Country Fair 2006 Friday night. The sold-out two-day fair, held at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre, is sponsored by Kicks and Eagle 106.7 and featured Jason Aldean, Pat Green and Montgomery Gentry Friday. (Rodney Ho / AJC staff)

Originally posted Saturday, January, 2020 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Former veteran Kicks 101.5 morning host Cadillac Jack has sued the Atlanta-based parent company Cumulus Media for wrongful termination, citing a boss who regularly harassed and bullied him over his sexual orientation.

Last July, Caddy - whose real name is William Choate and is referred to as such in the lawsuit - was let go abruptly from Kicks with 22 months left on his employment contract. According to the lawsuit, he was fired “with cause” but Caddy believes the cause was just an excuse to get rid of him and his hefty salary.

The long-time country music DJ is seeking $732,258.05, based on his annual $400,000 salary over those remaining 22 months of his contract with what was called Kicks but has since been re-named New Country 101.5.

He started at the company at age 19 and worked afternoons for many years before moving to mornings. He also spent some time at Y106, a sister country station that no longer exists.

Over Caddy's first 22 years at the company - which went through multiple owners - "the environment was genial, supportive, and professional," according to the lawsuit. But he said that changed when Cumulus hired Sean Shannon in April, 2015 as vice president and market manager.

Afterwards, Caddy contended, “the working environment of the Atlanta offices where Mr. Choate reported daily dramatically changed.”

Caddy, in the lawsuit, said he began receiving a barrage of “derogatory comments from Mr. Shannon regarding Mr. Choate’s sexual orientation and failure to conform to gender norms.”

The lawsuit noted that “Mr. Choate identifies as a bi-sexual male, an aspect of his personal life that he generally keeps to himself and only shares with those close to him.”

Among the allegations in the lawsuit of what Shannon said to and about Caddy at the radio station:

- Shannon would say he had a strong “gaydar” and “couldn’t believe how [Mr. Choate] lived his life.”

- At meeting with other employees around, Shannon would say that Caddy was a "closeted homosexual" and his wife Donna would be "disgusted if she found out the news."

- Shannon said Caddy couldn’t be gay and a country music personality in Atlanta.

- Shannon would openly complain at company meetings about Caddy’s $400,000 salary and felt he was overpaid.

- Shannon tried to get Caddy fired earlier but was overruled by others.

Caddy felt “intimidated” and ‘fearful” for his job so he didn’t report Shannon’s behavior to Shannon’s bosses.

Shannon did not respond to a text seeking comment about these allegations.

Caddy also addressed the event that precipitated his firing: his efforts to get into a VIP area after a Luke Combs concert at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre July 12. He was not there in any official capacity but was invited by his Kicks boss, then interim program director Greg Frey, also vice president of programming operations for Cumulus.

In the lawsuit, Caddy admittedly drank that night and was not allowed into the VIP area,but he portrayed himself as polite and respectful.

Holly Clausen, senior director of marketing for Live Nation Atlanta, sent an email to Mike Kee, Cumulus events manager, that told a different story: Caddy was escorted out by security guards because he was "apparently wasted and threatening to 'have their jobs.'" 

Caddy said other allegations came out that he denied and were used as a pretext for getting rid of him. Frey, in a hearing with the Department of Labor regarding Caddy's unemployment benefits, said Caddy had told a LiveNation employee who wouldn't let him into the VIP area  "fat and ugly." He also heard from Meg Stevens, program director for rival station 94.9/The Bull, who said Caddy grabbed the butt of one of her employees with both hands and grinded up against another. The Department of Labor deemed these allegations hearsay since Frey failed to provide first-hand testimony.

Here is the email Clausen sent to Kee after the Combs concert. It also references Caddy's former morning co-host Corey Dylan, who is now the mid-day host and, according to the lawsuit, received no disciplinary action for her actions :

So, not to end the day on another negative note. But who is the PD / contact for Kicks if I have an issue? We had an issue with Corey tonight (from Caddy and Corey) and my staff is not so pleased with her. She bullied her way into the Club, "Do you know who I am" and "I don't give a [expletive]". And let herself in. The staff let her in since she threw around Caddy's name and he was on the list since he asked me earlier in the day. Had she emailed me as well, I would have gladly put her on the list. This is completely unacceptable behavior and my staff is not happy right now. Thanks! AND the 2nd…..Coming in at 11:30pm…. And I just learned we had three security people escort Caddy out of the Club. He's apparently wasted and threatening to 'have their jobs'. I'm now done with this day.

This information eventually got back to Shannon and Caddy was suspended, then terminated.
Attached to the lawsuit was Caddy's "notice of separation"  and the reason for his termination: "Your employment is being terminated for cause pursuant to Section 5.2 of your Employment Agreement as a result of your highly unprofessional conduct at the Luke Combs concert on July 12, 2019."

Caddy, who was officially terminated July 22, argued in the lawsuit that he was not at the concert in any official capacity.

He then sought unemployment benefits, which are not typically given when an employee is fired for cause. But the Department of Labor hearing officer decided in Caddy’s favor, feeling there was not enough evidence that Caddy was actually fired for cause:  “Your employer fired you for inappropriate conduct. If you violate a standard of conduct it is the same as violating an employer rule. The employer has the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence, that such violations took place. Available facts do not show that you violated employer rules or standards. Therefore you can be paid unemployment benefits.”

Frey, his former boss, said during the Department of Labor hearing that Caddy violated a statement in the employee handbook and that was why he was fired: “Treating fellow employees, clients, potential clients, vendors and others at Cumulus Media with professionalism, respect and care including speaking in a polite reasonable tone without sarcasm or anger.” But he also didn’t know if there was any specific consequences for not following that statement.

Caddy said he never received that as a reason for his termination at the time he was let go.

In interviews with me over the years, Caddy has prided himself on being the ultimate company man. He even had his boss Frey sit in with him while he did an interview in 2013 to celebrate 20 years with the company.

His secret? "Take direction," Caddy said in 2013. "There are so many people who are smarter than I am. I don't have all the answers. I never will be the smartest guy in the room. I need coaching. I need good direction."

Frey at the time said of Caddy: "Caddy still loves what he does and has a tremendous sense of pride to see it done well.”

Caddy said he had never received a single disciplinary action from his employer until July, 2019 and his former boss Frey in that labor hearing said the same thing.

He attempted to resolve his contractual issues with Cumulus privately but, according to the lawsuit, the company “denied Mr. Choate’s demands and refused to negotiate same. Defendants have thus acted in bad faith, been stubbornly litigious, and have caused Mr. Choate to incur unnecessary trouble and expense in the form of attorneys’ fees and costs he has incurred in his efforts to enforce the terms of the Employment Agreement and Amended Agreement.”