Lightning hit with sexual-assault lawsuit by former women’s hockey coach

The woman, 23, says she lost her job after she reported that a USF coach assaulted her during an overnight work trip.
The Tampa Bay Lightning is named in a lawsuit alleging sexual assault by one of its executives.
The Tampa Bay Lightning is named in a lawsuit alleging sexual assault by one of its executives. [ Times (2014) ]
Published April 22, 2020|Updated April 22, 2020

TAMPA — A former youth hockey coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning says she lost her job after telling the organization’s human resources department she was sexually assaulted by a team executive during a company trip, according to a lawsuit.

The Hillsborough County woman, 23, is seeking punitive damages for post-traumatic stress disorder, back pay to her dismissal August 2018, and reinstatement to her job with the Lightning’s community outreach program. She worked as a coach for the girls hockey program.

According to the lawsuit, the woman began working for the Lightning in 2016 and was repeatedly “subjected to disparate, discriminatory, and harassing treatment based on her sex.”

The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying the woman because of the nature of the allegations.

The lawsuit names as defendant Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, doing business as the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is a member of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned $15 million to Times Publishing Co., owner of the Tampa Bay Times.

In court documents, the woman alleges she was sexually harassed and, during a work trip, sexually assaulted by coworker Aaron Humphrey, community hockey coordinator for the Lightning and an associate coach with the University of South Florida Ice Bulls hockey team.

No criminal charges were filed against Humphrey in Hillsborough courts, according to records from the Circuit Court Clerks office. In January 2019, the woman filed discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the lawsuit says. Neither complaint has resulted in any action.

The Lightning organization does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy and had no comment for this story, spokesman Bill Wickett told the Times Wednesday. Humphreys had no comment either, Wickett said.

The assault occurred during an overnight company trip to Pensacola by the woman and five men, the lawsuit says. She repeatedly resisted Humphrey’s advances but he sexually assaulted her, the lawsuit says.

When she returned to work, the woman was “scared and unsure as to how to handle the situation” and at first tried to act as if nothing had happened. But the harassment continued as she refused to engage in a sexual relationship with Humphrey, the lawsuit says.

In March 2018, the woman ran into Humphrey at Hattricks, a bar and restaurant near the Lightning’s Amalie Arena. She “attempted to have a conversation” with Humphrey so she could ask him to leave her alone, the lawsuit says.

“Mr. Humphrey responded by laughing and by shoving his hand down (the woman’s) pants,” the lawsuit says. She "immediately told him to stop and walked away from him.”

Still, the discrimination continued, the lawsuit says. The woman was subject to increased scrutiny of her work performance, passed over for a promotion and given formal write-ups for behavior common among her coworkers.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

In June 2018, the woman filed a formal complaint with Jay Feaster, vice president of community hockey development for the Tampa Bay Lightning, requesting to meet in person, the lawsuit says. Feaster declined, assuring the woman he would refer her complaint to human resources to "handle the situation” with Humphrey, the lawsuit says.

Nothing changed until Aug. 7, 2018, when the woman was fired for a “violation in company policy," the lawsuit says.

The woman asked human resources staff about her sexual harassment complaints and an employee responded, "Oh, I heard about that but that’s in the past and doesn’t matter,” the lawsuit says.

The Lightning “failed to comply with its statutory duty to take all reasonable and necessary steps to eliminate harassment from the workplace and to prevent it from occurring in the future,” the lawsuit says.