GRAND FORKS — A former long-time employee of the Ralph Engelstad Arena is suing his former employers for wrongful termination and age discrimination.
According to court documents, Jerald Robinson was hired as the concessions manager at the Ralph in 2001, where he worked until his termination in 2016. Robinson alleges that he was fired because of his age and without adequate warning. Arena management argue that Robinson was an at-will employee who failed to meet goals set by his supervisors. The suit was filed in February 2019, and a date for a trial is expected to be set in the coming weeks.
A trial had initially been set for May 26, but was postponed after civil jury trials across the state were suspended due to COVID-19. A scheduling conference was scheduled for Tuesday, June 30, but was canceled when the parties' attorneys decided to set a trial date amongst themselves.
According to the five-page civil complaint, Robinson managed a growing list of responsibilities during his 15 years as the concessions manager, during which time he received repeated satisfactory performance reviews. During the same time frame, the complaint notes that men's hockey concessions' revenue grew from $65,000 per game to $180,000 per game.
The complaint also alleges that Ralph management promised Robinson that any problem with his work would be resolved without termination. It also notes that as a person over the age of 40, he is protected from employment discrimination under the North Dakota Human Rights Act.
In deposition in April 2018, Robinson said he never spoke with his supervisors or other employees about his suspicion that he was terminated on the basis of his age. Rather, he said the discrimination was "glaring."
"I was the oldest employee there," Robinson said during questioning from Michael Morley, the attorney representing the arena. "You could just feel that they were working toward a younger crew."
In a response to Robinson's complaint, Morley called Robinson's complaint "frivolous, unfounded, unwarranted and made in bad faith."
The response also disputes Robinson's claim that he was given no advance warning ahead of his termination, stating that supervisors gave him multiple notifications that his job performance was inadequate.
According to court documents, Jody Hodgson, Robinson's direct supervisor, claimed that during Robinson's time working at the Ralph, job expectations and standards changed while Robinson's work performance did not. Hodgson pointed to a number of discussions supervisors had with Robinson about his communication and management style, as well as complaints from former employees about Robinson's temperament, work style and professionalism. Robinson disputed those complaints in the deposition.
One issue repeatedly referenced was the implementation of a new Point of Sale software system, which Hodgson said Robinson did not adequately learn and was unable to sufficiently train new employees to use.
Hodgson added that concessions management has evolved to be much more strategic and analytical than it was when Robinson was hired.
"I would be honest with you and say I subscribe to the theory that I think you can tweak around the outside with people, but I don't think you really change the core of people's skill set and the core of their abilities as an employee," Hodgson is quoted as saying in court documents.
Robinson is seeking payment for lost wages, economic and non-economic damages, and further relief at the discretion of the court.