TAMPA — A pair of former NHL off-ice officials who worked Lightning games at Amalie Arena are suing the league, saying they were fired for reporting a co-worker who for years made racist comments in the workplace.
The allegations are part of a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
David Walkowiak and James Watkins allege they were wrongfully terminated in retaliation for reporting racial slurs and other derogatory comments made by former colleague Pat DeLorenzo Jr. at the arena during games.
“DeLorenzo made negative racial comments about (the NHL’s) employees, including but not limited to (the league’s) African-American hockey players and the African-American veteran, Sonya Bryson-Kirksey, who sings the National Anthem at Tampa Bay Lightning games at Amalie Arena where (Walkowiak and Watkins) worked,” the lawsuit states.
The two men say they reported their co-worker’s language to their supervisor, Ron Brace, the NHL’s crew chief in Tampa at the time, for several years. But they say their claims went ignored until the men complained to the league and the NHL received six video recordings of DeLorenzo making racist and sexually inappropriate comments from November and December of 2019.
Brace and DeLorenzo were fired by the NHL on Jan. 2, 2020. Walkowiak and Watkins were terminated almost two months later for their alleged involvement in a group-message thread of DeLorenzo’s an unknown number of years earlier. The league refused to provide a copy of the message in question when asked by Walkowiak, the lawsuit says.
Watkins had been an off-ice official since 1998, Walkowiak since 2005.
In 2020, another former Tampa off-ice official, Laurence P. Sullivan, filed a suit against the NHL, making nearly identical accusations about being terminated after complaining about DeLorenzo. The case was resolved out of court last year.
Walkowiak and Watkins said they were worried about retaliation because they said a female off-ice official in another city was fired after she made a sexual harassment complaint. Walkowiak and Watkins were told by the NHL they would be protected under the league’s whistle-blower policy, the lawsuit says.
They are seeking undisclosed punitive damages and reinstatement to a comparable position with the league.
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