Anthony Filomena talks with a crowd. | Photo courtesy of Anthony Filomena

When Anthony Filomena’s profile about his career as an out gay Chicago Blackhawks PR manager was published on Outsports in April, he felt it was a great opportunity to paint the team’s LGBTQ outreach initiatives in a positive light and continue a conversation about deepening their commitment to our community.

At the end of that week, the Blackhawks let him go.

Now Filomena alleges he was fired as the result of “possible sexual orientation discrimination” shortly after the Outsports article and has retained an attorney for possible legal action.

The Blackhawks have denied that accusation, saying Filomena was fired for insubordination and had received multiple warnings regarding what the team says was “a complete disregard to our policies, procedures and clearly-documented expectations.” They say his being gay had nothing to do with his firing.

When asked if his being gay played a role in the Blackhawks terminating his employment, Filomena asserted that even though they didn’t state it outright, he felt that the circumstances and timing of his dismissal led him to that accusation.

The Blackhawks sent Outsports a lengthy statement denying Filomena’s allegations.

“The Chicago Blackhawks would not terminate an employee because of their sexual orientation,” Blackhawks communications manager Ben Fromstein said in an email response from the team to Outsports. “In fact, prior to the issues noted below, the organization featured Mr. Filomena and a number of other employees during last year’s Pride Month on our LinkedIn channel. His public accusations are insulting to the organization and the many employees, including several in senior leadership, who identify as LGBTQ+ and contribute to the Blackhawks and our sport every day.”

Anthony Filomena was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks

Neither side disputes that Filomena was fired shortly after the April 29 article on Outsports was published. The article detailed how Filomena left sports when he heard homophobic comments in youth hockey and how the Blackhawks’ Pride Night brought him back to the sport.

In detailing his version of events, Filomena says that once he finished the Outsports interview for his initial profile, he asked Outsports to delay publishing the article until he got approval from the organization. When he discussed the story with director of marketing and communications Lyndsey Stroope, Filomena said that she informed him that he would need to have approval from “senior leadership.” 

He said he didn’t hear back for several days. 

Then Stroope went on vacation. While she was away, Filomena decided to discuss the Outsports story with Blackhawks chairman Danny Wirtz. Filomena wanted to eventually set up an interview for Wirtz with Outsports, so the owner could discuss the team’s LGBTQ outreach efforts in greater detail.

“I wanted to talk about so much of our great initiatives and what we’re doing behind the scenes that people don’t know,” Filomena said. “But I didn’t feel like I’m the best person to talk about that. Sure, I’m their gay publicist, and it does make sense for me to tout that. But it’s so much more powerful if people read it on your [website] and it comes from Danny Wirtz.”

Wirtz reportedly liked the idea, and Filomena told Outsports that Wirtz gave the green light for Outsports to run the story. 

After it was published, Filomena followed up with Outsports to set up a time and date for an interview with Wirtz.

Subsequently, Stroope returned from her vacation and discovered that Outsports had run Filomena’s coming-out story. The two didn’t interact on her first day back and then had a meeting the next day. 

When Filomena showed up to the office at the end of the week, he says his co-workers avoided him. Late in the afternoon, vice president of marketing Jerry Ferguson asked Filomena to meet with HR. 

“I sit down and Jerry’s like, ‘Anthony, this is your last day with the Blackhawks,” he remembered. “And I just looked at them and I said, ‘You guys have got to be kidding me.’ And I started crying.”

Why was Anthony Filomena fired by the Chicago Blackhawks?

In the intervening weeks, Filomena has used his social media to castigate the Blackhawks for his firing. Last week his attorney sent a letter to the Blackhawks detailing what he alleges are the reasons behind his termination.

The letter by attorney Josh Friedman, provided to Outsports, details several points of contention between Filomena and his immediate supervisors surrounding promotion events. It also alleges the Outsports article was the trigger for his firing.

“The final straw here was the Outsports article,” the letter says. “Although the team’s prior VP of marketing was very supportive of Mr. Filomena’s sexual orientation and his outreach to the LGBTQ community, it appears that [vice president of marketing Jerry] Ferguson and Stroope were not supportive of him or his work, and his termination almost immediately after the appearance of the article (even though he had prior approval for it from Wirtz) suggests possible sexual orientation discrimination was behind Mr. Filomena’s discharge.

“As a result of the above, Mr. Filomena has been financially and emotionally devastated, his career path has been seriously impaired, and his lifelong love of the team has been shattered. Accordingly, he has retained me to look into this matter and advise him on the appropriate course of action.  In order to conduct my investigation, I request that you instruct the team to immediately preserve all records (both electronic and print) related in any way to Mr. Filomena’s employment and his termination, and to suspend any and all record destruction efforts that may result in the destruction of any records related to these matters.”

The Blackhawks dispute this contention, saying Filomena did not follow established procedure for doing interviews before going over the heads of his superiors to Wirtz.

“While we were appreciative of the opportunity to highlight the organization’s support of the LGBTQ+ community,” the Blackhawks’ statement said, “we told Mr. Filomena that the opportunity would be considered, and elevated for additional approval, which was required because of the following:

“Select subject matter included Blackhawks projects and initiatives; Mr. Filomena was not responsible for the Pride Night event nor did he oversee the organization’s LGBTQ+ community partnerships.

“Any employees below the VP level, regardless of department, are not spokespeople for the organization without multiple approvals such as their manager, department head and leaders who oversee specific initiatives, among others.

“When his manager left the country for PTO on April 19th, mutual understanding between Mr. Filomena and his manager was that the interview request was pending and would be discussed further upon her return on May 1. The organization was unaware that this interview had been completed until seeing the article had been published on April 29. During that time, Mr. Filomena texted Mr. Wirtz regarding a future opportunity for Mr. Wirtz to be featured in Outsports, to which Mr. Wirtz gladly agreed. Mr. Filomena was not seeking approval from Mr. Wirtz on the interview opportunity detailed above.”

The team also contends that Filomena was “terminated for cause due to multiple ongoing violations of the company’s policies, procedures and the employee handbook over a period of six months, including violation of attendance policy and insubordination. He received multiple written communications outlining expectations including a formal, final written warning prior to his dismissal (and for clarity: all delivered prior to Mr. Filomena introducing the Outsports media opportunity).”

Filomena’s lawyer, Friedman, said the charge of violating policies and insubordination are not true.

“With respect to the contention that Mr. Filomena had ongoing attendance issues, he assures me that there were no assigned hours for him (or other salaried employees) and that it was not uncommon for employees not to be at their desk from 9-5, as salaried employees had approval to work from home, to leave the office for meetings, or to be away for other reasons as long as they got their work done — which Mr. Filomena did,” Friedman’s letter says. “With respect to his alleged insubordination, what I understand happened here is that Mr. Filomena raised a concern within the organization about what he believed may have been a violation of NHL policy by Mr. Ferguson.”

Regarding the team’s claims of issuing a final written warning, Filomena stated that when HR presented him with it in writing, he wrote “details are inaccurate” on the document and refused to sign it. 

As Filomena recounted events, when he spoke to HR while being terminated, they informed him that he was under final warning.

“I said, ‘To me, I wasn’t. Because you told me I didn’t have to sign it and I wrote on there that it was inaccurate. And then you told me there was going to be a follow-up and I never heard from you again.'”

Filomena asked the executives to give him a reason why they were letting him go. He said each person had a different story. When he asked to see the document of dismissal, they told him it wasn’t ready.

He also alleges that team management told him that he shouldn’t have done the Outsports profile without the approval of senior leadership. When Filomena pressed his case that he got Wirtz’s approval, Filomena said vice president and general counsel Marcus LeBeouf replied, “Well, Danny can’t really be approving these things.”

Filomena said he was aghast.

“I’m like, ‘What?! He owns this team!’”

According to Filomena, LeBeouf also claimed that the organization was upset that the story had mentioned their cover-up of then-prospect Kyle Beach’s sexual assault.

This incensed Filomena. 

“And I’m like, ‘The whole world knows!’…You know what I said about that? Yeah, if someone gets sexually assaulted, they should talk about it. Because I’ve been sexually assaulted too,” he replied.

Losing his dream job with the Blackhawks

Filomena is now picking up the pieces after his dream job came crashing down. His lawyer’s letter hints at possible legal action in the future.

The whole experience has left him frustrated.

“I can vet media opportunities for Danny Wirtz or Jaime Faulkner, by myself but I can’t do it for my own self? Do you think I’m publicly going to go on record talking [trash] about this place when I know all the drama? And again, this article made [the Blackhawks] look great.”

He didn’t notice the toll that his job had taken on him until after he was let go.

“You’re going like clockwork. You’re working 60-hour weeks. You’re working game nights, weekends, it’s just like a cycle,” he said. “Looking back and now that I’ve been talking about it for two weeks, I’m like, ‘Yeah, it was [messed] up.’ But these are all things that add up over time. It’s two years of drama and trauma.”