Coyotes Alleged to Have 'Toxic' Work Environment: 'It's a S--tshow'

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2021

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, right, celebrates his goal against Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper, left, during NHL hockey practice at Gila River Arena Monday, July 13, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Less than two years after Alex Meruelo's purchase of the Arizona Coyotes was finalized, the franchise is reportedly in a state of disarray off the ice. 

Per The Athletic's Katie Strang, in interviews with more than 50 people associated with the Coyotes, including current and former employees, the organization was accused by multiple people as having a "toxic" work environment under Meruelo. 

"If I was talking to a future employer, I'd say it's been a learning experience,” one employee told Strang. "If I was being frank with you, I'd say it's a s--tshow."

Strang's investigation found that representatives from a law firm met with members of the organization in January to ask about "potential financial irregularities, workplace culture, at least one case of alleged sexual harassment, and other matters."

In a response to Strang's report, the Coyotes issued a statement accusing The Athletic of condoning a "harassment campaign against Mr. Alex Meruelo, the Arizona Coyotes, the Meruelo Group and dozens of current employees and former employees."

Greg Wyshynski @wyshynski

The @ArizonaCoyotes release a statement on @KatieJStrang's piece today, claiming that The Athletic has "for several months, has condoned a harassment campaign against Mr. Alex Meruelo, the Arizona Coyotes, the Meruelo Group and dozens of current employees and former employees." https://t.co/Lw934U4TOo

One employee told Strang that Meruelo "berated" a senior team employee in a meeting with about 20 other people "for a variety of issues." Per Strang, "outbursts from those at the very top of the organization were not uncommon."

Employees also told Strang they had reported the issues to the NHL "to document what they were experiencing and, in some cases, to seek help."

Strang previously reported in September that the Coyotes "have been late on paying at least a few players their contractually-stipulated signing bonuses on time." She did note at the time the issue had since been resolved, but "it has raised some concerns."

The Coyotes announced last March amid the COVID-19 pandemic they would continue to pay part-time and hourly employees at Gila River Arena and with the team.

The team subsequently announced in April that 50 percent of its staff was being furloughed due to financial concerns caused by the pandemic. 

"We never anticipated that the situation would escalate to the point of shutting down some of our businesses. It doesn't appear that the NHL will resume play in the immediate future, so this decision was necessary," Meruelo said in a statement about the decision. 

In addition to potential financial and workplace issues, Strang noted the Coyotes' use of their first pick in the 2020 NHL draft to select Mitchell Miller led to criticism. 

Miller admitted to bullying a Black, developmentally disabled student four years ago in juvenile court, per an October report from Craig Harris and Jose M. Romero of the Arizona Republic

Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, the classmate, told Harris and Romero that Miller also used racist language when referring to him, including calling him "brownie" and the "N-word."

The Coyotes announced on Oct. 29 they had renounced Miller's draft rights. Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez said said the decision was made after they learned about the situation involving Meyers-Crothers.

Meruelo, 56, attempted to purchase the Atlanta Hawks in 2011. It fell through when Atlanta's ownership group and Meruelo mutually agreed to terminate the deal, but Strang reported the NBA "harbored doubts about Meruelo's ability to withstand operating costs and did not receive the financial assurances needed to assuage those concerns."

The NHL finalized Meruelo's purchase of the Coyotes from Andrew Barroway in July 2019. They made the playoffs last season for the first time since the 2011-12 season, but lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.