City of St. John's suspends Growlers home games, investigating allegations against ownership staff

City investigating allegations of 'disrespectful workplace conduct' against staff of the Deacon Sports and Entertainment, the team's ownership group, says Mayor Danny Breen.

Deacon Sports and Entertainment staff accused of 'disrespectful workplace conduct,' says Mayor Danny Breen

The City of St. John's has suspended the Newfoundland Growlers from playing in the arena following allegations of 'disrespectful workplace conduct' by the team's ownership group. (Jen White/CBC)

The City of St. John's is suspending Newfoundland Growlers home games at Mile One Centre while it investigates allegations of "disrespectful workplace conduct" by team ownership, according to Mayor Danny Breen.

According to a news release issued Wednesday, the city says Deacon Sports and Entertainment, the Growlers' ownership group, has had its access to the arena suspended until a formal investigation can be completed.

In a statement, Danny Breen, St. John's mayor and chair of St. John's Sports and Entertainment, which runs Mile One, said SJSE employees "have brought forward allegations of disrespectful workplace conduct" against Deacon Sports and Entertainment as recently as Tuesday.

"While I cannot and will not detail the nature of the disrespectful workplace conduct allegations, we are taking the complaints seriously. [They] require us, as the employer, to take this action. The board and city council are unanimous in this decision," Breen told reporters Wednesday.

The Growlers have played in the arena since their inception, winning the ECHL's Kelly Cup in 2019.

The team, which wrapped up its first road trip Tuesday night, was scheduled to play its first home game of the season in St. John's on Nov. 5. The arena is also set to take on a new name, Mary Brown's Centre, on the same day.

On Monday, people were unable to buy Growlers tickets, and the team issued an apology to fans. "The ticketing issue with Mile One Centre is currently beyond our control," read the team's statement.

While Breen said he understands that time is of the essence, he said the city wants to give the independent investigator a chance to fully complete their work.

"Being able to work and their mental health are a major priority.… We want that carried out, and it is an independent investigation. So what we need to do is get the results of that, and then we'll move forward from there," he said.

Suspension is 'penalty without process': Growlers owner

Following the announcement, Growlers owner Dean MacDonald said the team was informed the decision was made due to the workplace environment but he said SJSE staff are likely stressed over customer complaints over social media about ticketing problems.

"They had some workplace safety issues, which we understand and have to be investigated. We actually support that. But there's a process to that.… What we're finding, which I think most people would understand, is that there's a penalty without a process," MacDonald said.

"We're being penalized for something at this stage that no one even knows is legitimate."

Growlers owner Dean MacDonald says his team is working to move the Growlers to a new location to play their home games this season. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

MacDonald said his group is working on a solution to get the team back on the ice for their games, but said the games likely won't take place in St. John's.

In a statement to CBC, the Toronto Maple Leafs — the Growlers' parent club — said they are prepared to temporarily host the team in Ontario.

"Our organization will look to host the Growlers on a temporary basis at Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto until a resolution in this dispute is hopefully found between Deacon Sports and the city," the statement reads.

In its own statement, the Growlers said its first six homes games will played in Toronto and further information, including the process for refunds of tickets for those six games will be shared directly with ticket holders and on its website once it becomes available.

MacDonald said the team is also ready to take the city to court if necessary, and that a lawsuit could involve the ECHL as the move disrupts the season.

"We're going to be fighting this hard. Obviously, the relationship is done," he said. "I think everyone's going to see that some light is cast here where it's long overdue."

MacDonald also said he plans eventually build his own arena to house the team, but said construction wouldn't take place in St. John's. He said more details should be available in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Newfoundland Rogues basketball team said they're still planning to go ahead with their opening weekend on Nov. 27. Players are expected to arrive Nov. 1.

"In view of the ongoing dispute involving SJSE and the ownership group of the Mary Brown's Centre's other anchor tenant, the Newfoundland Rogues would like to inform the public that we will be carrying on as planned and will be releasing our schedule shortly," the franchise said in a media release Wednesday afternoon.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Henrike Wilhelm