Former Mascot Says Hockey Team Discriminates

(CN) – A former mascot of the Florida Panthers claims in court the National Hockey League club failed to pay him wages and fired him due to his disability.

In a complaint filed Dec. 22 in the federal court in Fort Lauderdale, plaintiff Raphael Estevez says he was hired to be the team’s mascot, “Stanley Panther,” in January 2012, and was given the additional title of game operations/mascot coordinator.

Prior to being hired to be the team’s mascot, Estevez had worked part-time as a member of the “Panther Patrol/Rat Pack,” which performs activities to hype up the crowd during games, the complaint says.

Estevez says that during his tenure as mascot, he not only performed at games, but also appeared at public and private events including birthdays, marketing events and parades.

But Estevez claims that while the Panthers paid him a salary for all hours he worked, that salary fell below the minimum wage when one factored in his appearances at outside events.

He maintains he should have been paid overtime for this work, and that the Panthers wrongly considered such work part of his routine duties.

According to the complaint, the Panthers misclassified Estevez as an exempt employee when he should have been classified as non-exempt, and entitled to overtime pay.

But Estevez’s complaint goes beyond a dispute over compensation.

On March 10, 2016, Estevez was hospitalized for severe depression. He says his family contacted the Panthers’ human resources manager that day to inform the team of the situation, and that he and his former direct supervisor also spoke with company officials about his disability.

Estevez returned to work on March 16, 2016, while still being treated for severe depression, and he says he was repeatedly assured that his job was not in jeopardy either because of his condition or his need to take medical leave.

However, Estevez claims his work conditions when he returned were not what they had once been, and that he was discriminated against and treated differently from other employees because of his disability.

Estevez claims that shortly thereafter, the team falsely accused him of accepting payment for participating in events for season ticket and box office holders, and of committing acts related to his condition that never occurred.

He says that the hockey club also removed him from the “Energy Team,” where he performed as the team’s mascot during games.

Then, on April 11, 2016, Estevez says he was fired without cause.

“Estevez was told by his supervisors … that he was being terminated because he allegedly took part in a post-game photograph that was not approved by management, and because of his ‘attitude,’” the complaint says.

He says that The Panthers’ reasons for his termination were false and nothing but a pretext to terminate him because of his disability.

He is seeking compensatory damages and punitive on claims of unpaid minimum and overtime wages and disability/handicap discrimination.

He is represented by Erika Deutsch Rotbart of Deutsch Rotbart & Associates PA in Boca Raton, Fla.

Representatives of the Florida Panthers did not immediately respond to an email and phone call requesting comment on the lawsuit.

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