Chicago Blackhawks sued for breach of contract, fraud, sexual harassment

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A former Chicago Blackhawks independent contractor is suing Blackhawks chairman and CEO Danny Wirtz and the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation for breach of oral contract, fraud and violating the Gender Violence Act, among other counts.

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County (Ill.) on Tuesday on behalf of Nina Sanders, whom the Blackhawks hired in 2020 to assist in their Native American community outreach. She is seeking a jury trial and an amount greater than $150,000.

In the lawsuit, Sanders accused the Blackhawks of failing to investigate and report sexual assault allegations against multiple individuals during the time she was contracted by the organization. Sanders alleged the Blackhawks attempted to silence her by isolating her position in response to her accusations.

Sanders also alleged she agreed to take the position after forming an oral contract with Wirtz to fulfill a list of promises related to the Native American community, including that Wirtz “would actively advocate to, and would change, the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Team’s logo.” Sanders accused Wirtz of failing to keep his many promises.

“Mr. Wirtz intended for Ms. Sanders to rely on these false statements in the Oral Contract and induce her to accept employment with the Organization so that the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Team could benefit from their association with Ms. Sanders, as her standing and reputation in the Native American community continues to pacify resistance to the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Team’s continued use of Native American imagery in the team’s name, logo, and merchandise for Mr. Wirtz and the Organizations’ continued economic benefit,” the lawsuit reads.

Sanders says in the lawsuit that, in June 2021, a person with ties to the organization made “inappropriate sexual advances on herself, including unwanted flirting and touching her without her consent” and that the Blackhawks did not investigate and did not report the alleged behavior to police. In November 2021, the lawsuit says, the accused person attempted to force Sanders to join him in his hotel room by grabbing both of her arms before she was able to escape. About two months later, the lawsuit alleges, the person sent Sanders a video of himself masturbating.

The lawsuit says another person with ties to the Blackhawks sexually assaulted a team employee, who reported the alleged assault to Sanders’ boss, and that Sanders also reported the assault to her boss and other team employees, including Wirtz. The lawsuit alleges none of the team employees reported the alleged assault to police and that the team maintained its relationship with the accused person.

In November 2022, the lawsuit alleges, a Blackhawks dancer approached a woman in a suite at United Center, startling the woman, whom Sanders says had previously filed a police report alleging the dancer had raped her. The suit says the dancer was not to be in the same room as the woman. Again, the suit says, the Blackhawks did not report the incident and took no action.

Sanders’ employment with the Blackhawks ended in June 2023. The lawsuit says Wirtz emailed her to say the organization would continue to review her sexual harassment complaints but was ending its business relationship.

The Blackhawks responded to the lawsuit with a series of statements on Wednesday. The team said Sanders worked as an independent contractor with the organization from 2020 to 2023 to “support specific initiatives in partnership with the Sac & Fox Nation and other Native American communities” and that “the organization had noted operational issues in her work, and had received feedback from external partners that they did not want to continue to work with her.” The Blackhawks say Sanders made her allegations only after the sides unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a new contract.

“The Chicago Blackhawks have a zero tolerance policy for misconduct and take allegations of harassment in the workplace very seriously,” one of the team’s statements read. “In response to Ms. Sanders’ allegations, the organization immediately conducted a thorough investigation with the assistance of outside counsel, including interviews with internal and external parties, and review of pertinent materials and digital records. Based on the information available to us, we found insufficient evidence to substantiate her claims. Of note, the persons identified by Ms. Sanders in your question are not, and have never been, independent contractors with nor employees of the Chicago Blackhawks.”

(Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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