- A former off-ice official in Florida has sued the NHL, alleging his participation in an internal investigation led to his firing (Sullivan v. National Hockey League, No. 8:20-cv-02720 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 18, 2020)).
- The plaintiff alleged the supervisor of the officials was aware of a coworker’s racist comments and behavior, including using numerous slurs and derogatory comments directed at Black individuals. When he raised the issue with his supervisor, it was ignored, he alleged. Though the supervisor was ultimately fired for protecting the alleged behavior, the plaintiff claimed he experienced retaliation for providing the evidence, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- The plaintiff said he expressed hesitation to share testimony or evidence, including recordings of the comments, because another colleague was terminated shortly after reporting sexual harassment and because the supervisor "previously told Plaintiff, and others, that if the NHL received complaints, they would find a way to terminate them, and also boasted that due to his close relationship with [the vice president of HR], she would fire anyone he wanted."
"Title VII is probably one of the easiest employment laws for employers to comply with," Robin Shea, partner at Constangy Brooks, Smith & Prophete, previously told HR Dive. For companies with more than 15 employees, Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color and religion. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling from this past summer also determined that sexual orientation is protected from discrimination under the act.
Experts generally recommend that employers adopt formal procedures for investigating allegations like those described in Sullivan. Even during a pandemic, it's important that situations aren't allowed to fester, sources previously told HR Dive. HR should look into any actionable allegations, attorneys said at a 2018 conference, and, if misconduct is found, take steps to prevent it from recurring.
This incident is not the first time this year the NHL has been accused of violating Title VII; earlier this year, a former youth hockey coach sued the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, alleging she was terminated for breastfeeding.