- Scott Burnside, NHL
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The NHL is investigating what could be an explosive lawsuit filed by minor league player Jason Bailey against the Anaheim Ducks, alleging he was subject to systemic and repeated abuse while in the Ducks' farm system because he is Jewish.
The suit, filed Jan. 25 in California, refers to a period of time when Bailey, the 63rd overall pick in the 2005 draft, was playing with the ECHL Bakersfield Condors, then a farm team of the Ducks.
Among the allegations in documents obtained by ESPN.com, Bakersfield coach Martin Raymond and assistant coach Mark Pederson repeatedly made racial slurs referring to Bailey's Jewish faith. Raymond, who remains the team's head coach according to the Condor's website, allegedly told Bailey that Raymond's ex-wife was Jewish "and that she was a 'bitch' for taking all of his money."
When the team was discussing who should look after monies collected for a team party, it is alleged Bailey's name came up and Pederson remarked, "Well, I don't know if we can trust him with the money. He's Jewish."
Other allegations include frequent references made by Raymond about Jewish people and how they only care about money "and who's who."
During a road trip, Raymond allegedly turned to Bailey after seeing a CNN report on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and suggested, "Maybe you should go over there and fight in the war."
Raymond also allegedly told Bailey he would never want his son to be raised Jewish or to wear a Yarmulke.
Among the most damning pieces of the lawsuit are letters of apology from both coaches for their comments to Bailey.
"That's why they're trapped," Bailey's lawyer, Keith Fink, said of the defendants in the case that include the Condors and Ducks hockey clubs, and Raymond and Pederson.
In an undated letter included in the statement of claim, Raymond wrote:
"It was not my intention to offend you. The intent was to have a jovial moment. Please understand that prior to this incident, I was not trained to handle such a sensitive matter as a coach. As a French-Canadian, I too have come face-to-face with bigotry and understand how such remarks can negatively affect lives. I can certainly relate to you as I have repeatedly been called 'frog' through my playing and coaching career. This has affected me on and off the ice. Now that I understand that you were offended, I will no longer engage in this type of behavior nor condone it. I look forward to moving on and making a run for the playoffs as a team."
In a letter dated March 2, 2009, Pederson wrote that he never stopped to think how his words would make Bailey feel.
"Over the past week, I have had much time to think about this situation, and all that has transpired from my statement to you. I guess I never stopped to think about the impact my statement would have on you or how it would make you feel. It was not intended to insult or hurt you in any way, but it did, and for that I am truly sorry. From all that has happened, I have learned and become a better person. I am glad you are back, and I hope we can move forward from this and put our full concentration on our drive for playoffs. Please accept my apology."
Officials from the Condors did not return repeated messages left by ESPN.com, and Ducks officials declined to comment on the suit. Bailey also declined to be interviewed for this story. The ECHL declined comment, saying they knew nothing of the allegations even though the coaches were suspended for a time.
The Ducks are owned by Henry and Susan Samueli, well-known philanthropists who have been lauded for their generous support of Jewish causes. Henry Samueli's parents were Holocaust survivors who arrived almost penniless in America. The team's CEO, Michael Schulman, is also Jewish.
Fink said he heard "zero" from the Ducks about the allegations. And while there is no suggestion the Samuelis knew about the issues, Fink insisted Bailey did bring his concerns to Ducks assistant general manager David McNab and GM Bob Murray. Fink said Bailey was told by Ducks management the team would "do the right thing" and that the coaches would be fired.
If the Ducks are claiming they didn't know about the concerns, "the Ducks are not telling the truth," Fink said.
The NHL had no comment, but sources told ESPN.com the league is investigating the allegations to try to find out if the claims of abuse are true and what the Ducks knew about the situation, when they knew about it and how they responded.
A year ago on Jan. 19, a complaint was filed by Bailey with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the California state body that oversees allegations of harassment and discrimination. Filing those documents is a precursor to a civil suit being filed, but indicate the Ducks could have been aware of the potential for a suit for more than a year.
"I didn't even hear anything from them then," Fink said.
The suit claims the Condors' owner, Jonathan Fleisig, was also informed of the situation but did not act. Fink said Fleisig also told Bailey's father the coaches would be fired when he was contacted about the concerns. Instead, Bailey was sent to the Iowa Chops of the AHL for two months and played two games over that span. When the Ducks then tried to send Bailey to the Central Hockey League, they were told that would violate terms of his contract and Bailey was returned to the Condors for the balance of last season, the lawsuit alleges.
At that time, Raymond was suspended for one week and Pederson for two weeks, and the apology letters were written. The lawsuit does not ask for a specific dollar amount, but does allege Bailey's development was stunted by the environment in which he was forced to play while with the Ducks' organization.
Bailey, an Ottawa native who played junior hockey with the Ottawa 67s after spending two years with the University of Michigan, was traded to Ottawa after last season and currently plays for the team's AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
The Ducks are one of the most progressive teams in the NHL when it comes to community outreach. They have been proactive in dealing with the U.S. military and their families and have an active charitable foundation. The NHL has an active and progressive diversity program, which has been active in recent years at opening its game's doors to a broader cross section of the population.
The idea that one of their clubs would have allowed such behavior to go on without significant sanctions would put the NHL in an embarrassing position. The story is already receiving national attention, with CNN.com running it on its website and controversial radio talk show host Howard Stern discussing the case on his show Thursday.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.