Peter O’Leary, the former Chief Marketing Officer and Vice-President of Ticketing, is suing Eugene Melnyk for breach of contract. He is seeking $1.55 million dollars in the lawsuit. Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen was the first to break the news. You can read about it in all the salacious details, but the highlights (lowlights?) are:
- O’Leary is claiming that the work environment at the club was dysfunctional and that Melnyk behaved in an abusive manner towards his employees
- O’Leary was given glowing performance reviews by his then boss Cyril Leeder and awarded substantial bonuses that he claims Melnyk instructed Leeder not to pay him. When O’Leary was finally paid his bonus, the claim is that Melnyk demanded it be returned and effectively fired him over his failure to do so
- O’Leary claims that it became difficult to attract and retain talented employees when net pay was cut and the team was late on bonuses. The cuts were apparently so bad that professional staff were required to clean offices and empty garbage bins
- And finally, that other ousted managers (it is not made clear how many) are also seeking legal recourse against Melnyk and the Senators
This is where we are forced to pause and acknowledge that everything above has not been proven in a court of law. Some of this may prove to be not true, and perhaps more likely we will never get an official verdict on its full veracity if the Sens decide to settle out of court.
That being said, this does not look good on the Senators or specifically on Eugene Melnyk. Ottawa has long been rumoured to be running on a shoestring budget and Melnyk has historically been described as “difficult to work for”. This story will only deepen those widely held beliefs. In particular, Eugene comes across very poorly in the excerpted e-mail exchanges; if his recent media appearances weren’t troubling enough, everything about this affair seems bad.
Nonetheless, the accusation that Melnyk reneged on agreed upon bonuses and mandated massive cuts across all departments is perhaps the most immediately worrying. The Senators are privately held, and as such it is unlikely we will ever see their full finances, but healthy organizations of any kind do not try to avoid paying their employees bonuses in the manner that is described. The part about senior staff being forced to clean offices will make for the more salacious headline, but demanding the return of a $30k bonus is alarming.
There will be much more on this yet to come, and frankly it’s a shame that it will no doubt cast a pall on an unexpectedly strong season on the ice. Fans will undoubtedly remember when the Senators declared bankruptcy in 2003 in the midst of what would turn out to be the team’s most successful season up to that point. Even as the Sens were en route to a strong Conference Finals showing, it was hard to forget about the off-ice issues. It was in August of that same year that Eugene Melnyk rode in and saved the team. Seems like a long time ago now.