Details Emerge After Beloved NHL Zamboni Driver Fired for Embarrassing Incident – Judge Refusing to Toss His Suit

Details Emerge After Beloved NHL Zamboni Driver Fired for Embarrassing Incident – Judge Refusing to Toss His Suit

As more and more Americans continue working well into their 60s and 70s — thanks to Joe Biden’s horrendous economy — companies are going to have to come to terms with the fact that not every employee can be a 30-year-old. And it looks like this is a lesson that the Detroit Red Wings might have to learn.

In February of 2022, 68-year-old Red Wings Zamboni driver Al Sobotka was summarily fired several days after a fellow employee saw him urinating in an ice pile inside the Zamboni room of the Red Wings’ Little Caesars Arena. He claimed that he did what he did because of a prostate medical condition.

The fan-favorite and long-time Zamboni operator was told that he was being fired for “egregious misconduct.”

Sobotka, though, insisted that he was really fired because he was “too old,” not because of misbehavior. And he subsequently filed a lawsuit for wrongful firing and age discrimination. He is alleging that Olympia Entertainment, the company that manages the NHL team, used the peeing incident as an excuse to get rid of him over his age, according to the Detroit Free Press.

It turned out that Sobotka was very quickly replaced with a 37-year-old employee who, right off the bat, was paid the same $81,000 per-year salary level that it took Sobotka nearly 50 years to achieve.

For its part, Olympia Entertainment has spent the last two years unsuccessfully trying to get the courts to throw the lawsuit out and maintains that they fired Sobotka for cause, and not because of his age.

Despite their pleading that the courts are trying to restrict them from running their business the way they see fit, Wayne County Circuit Judge Susan Hubbard ruled that the lawsuit can go forward to a jury trial. The judge noted that, “given the severity of the discipline,” Sobotka may have a case, especially because Olympia Entertainment didn’t issue any suspensions, warnings or hold any employee meetings with Sobotka before summarily firing him.

Olympia Entertainment, which declined to comment to the Free Press due to the status of the case as “pending litigation,” insisted that they were under no obligation to engage in lighter disciplinary measures.

“The company is not required to provide any form of progressive discipline, and … has the right to terminate a colleague for violation of any of its company policies, or any other lawful reason, at any time, even for a first offense,” the company said in a filing.

But the case is now in front of the Michigan Court of Appeals as new details have been made public.

Some of the damning information includes the fact that the executive who fired Sobotka not only did not speak to the employee, she did not even know him and had never met him. She also did not learn of his medical condition claim. And no executive or manager put the reason for his firing in writing in his file.

Further, Sobotka was asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement to stop him from talking about the firing. He refused to do so, spurring the company to revoke his severance package.

“They all know I was done wrong,” Sobotka told the paper. “It’s in my head, 24/7, ya know.”

“I have nightmares,” Sobotka said. He is still shocked that was fired from a job he worked for five decades over an incident that “caused no harm to anyone.”

Not only that, but Sobotka had only just had a job performance review that gave him a glowing rating. And now Sobotka wants to know who made the decision to fire him and why he was not offered a warning or second chance.

Then there is the age issue. Sobotka said that during a department Zoom meeting, Vice President Tim Padgett outright told him in the meeting, “You’re getting old.” This, Sobotka says, is the key reason he was fired. Olympia Entertainment dumped him because of his age, and they used the peeing incident as their excuse.

Olympia Entertaiment denied that Padgett said anything like that during any meeting, but even if he did, it was a “stray remark … even if true, was historic, isolated and unrelated to the decision-making process.” Further, they said Padgett had no part in the decision-making process to fire Sobotka.

However, Padgett admitted in a deposition that he did share his opinion about Sobotka’s peeing incident with several other top executives, including Keith Bradford, president of Olympia Development and District Detroit, who is the man OE says had the responsibility to fire Sobotka.

There are many more twists and turns in this story, but so far, at least one judge feels that Sobotka deserves to have his day in court over the issue of being fired over his age.

This is an issue that employers need to deal with. According to an article at Money, more Americans over 65 are still in the workplace now than have been for decades.

The number of Americans in the workplace who are older than 65 has grown from 11 percent of the workforce in 1987 to 19 percent in 2023. And the fastest-growing age demographic in the workplace is people older than 75 — up to nine percent today, from only four percent in 1987.

Companies really need to acknowledge that many Americans don’t have the financial wherewithal to retire at 65 anymore. And, along with older workers comes dealing with medical problems that you rarely see with people in their 20s and 30s, like Sobotka’s prostate problem.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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