Former off-ice NHL officials allege they were fired for speaking out against racism

Two former off-ice National Hockey League officials allege in a new lawsuit they were fired for exposing a colleague who used racist and sexual language for years while working for the league.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Florida, lawyers for David Walkowiak and James Watkins, former team officials who worked for the NHL during the Lightning games in Tampa Bay , wrote that Walkowiak and Watkins should be rehired by the NHL. and receive punitive damages for their treatment.

The amount that the two former officials are claiming is not specified. The NHL has not filed a defense and its claims have not been proven in court. An NHL spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The legal complaint is similar to another lawsuit filed against the NHL in November 2020 by a former NHL official in Tampa who settled his wrongful dismissal case with the league last year.

Walkowiak and Watkins alleged in their wrongful dismissal lawsuit that both were terminated on February 27, 2020. Watkins had worked for the NHL since 1998 while Walkowiak was hired in September 2005.

During their tenure with the NHL, the two former officials alleged that their colleague Pat DeLorenzo Jr. repeatedly used racist language at work.

“DeLorenzo made negative racial comments about [NHL] employees, including, but not limited to, [NHL]African-American hockey players and African-American veteran Sonya Bryson-Kirksey, who sings the national anthem during Tampa Bay Lightning games at Amalie Arena, “the lawsuit alleges.

Walkowiak and Watkins allege they reported DeLorenzo’s behavior to Ron Brace, the former NHL team manager in Tampa. They allege that Brace took no action for several years. The lawsuit says the plaintiffs reported DeLorenzo’s behavior in November and December 2019.

“The racial comments were so offensive and pervasive that [Sullivan] started recording DeLorenzo’s racial comments at work, ”the lawsuit said.

Brace told TSN in an interview in November 2020 that he had never heard DeLorenzo use racist language.

In addition to working for the NHL, DeLorenzo also worked at a Tampa tire and auto store owned by his family. An employee at that store told TSN on Tuesday that DeLorenzo was not in good health and was not available for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Watson reported DeLorenzo’s alleged behavior in December 2019 to NHL vice president of human resources Patrice Distler and NHL lawyer Katherine Watson. Watson alleged that he told NHL officials that there was video evidence of DeLorenzo’s alleged racist statements.

Distler and Watson then contacted Walkowiak after speaking with Watson, according to the lawsuit, adding that the two plaintiffs feared they would be fired for reporting the incidents.

“[Walkowiak and Watson] knew that a former off-ice official in another city had been fired by [the NHL] shortly after reporting sexual harassment at work, ”says the lawsuit.

Both plaintiffs allege that after Distler and Watson promised them they would be protected under the NHL’s whistleblower policy, the league received six tapes of DeLorenzo’s discriminatory behavior.

After the NHL fired Brace and DeLorenzo on January 2, 2020, Walkowiak and Watson were fired on February 27, 2020, for allegedly being involved in a DeLorenzo text message group discussion thread years earlier.

The NHL refused to provide Walkowiak with a copy of the message, according to the lawsuit.

“Despite the opposition of the plaintiffs and multiple cases of protected activity, [the NHL] did nothing to stop the racially discriminatory comments that were broadcast to its employees and crew every night on its communications system and in the booth shared by off-ice officials, ”the lawsuit said. “Instead, only after being confronted with video evidence of the misconduct, [the NHL] terminated DeLorenzo and Brace, then terminated whistleblowers, including plaintiffs Walkowiak and Watkins. “

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