Jose Lambiet

Panthers’ mascot sues team for discrimination

The former employee who played NHL mascot Stanley C. Panther has sued the Florida Panthers for discrimination.

According to the complaint filed with a federal court in Fort Lauderdale, ex-employee Raphael Estevez claims he was illegally fired by the National Hockey League club when he returned from a medical leave for depression.

What’s more, Estevez claims, the Sunrise-based team owes him 1,400 hours of unpaid overtime!

“I got no comment,” Estevez said when reached at his new job as director of activities at the Orlando golf club Harmony Golf Preserve.

In his lawsuit filed Friday, meanwhile, Estevez explains how he was fired in April after seven years with the organization, including the past four as a full-time employee.

Estevez says he started out with the Panther Patrol, a group of cheerleaders whose job is to “boost the energy level of the crowd.” He was promoted to playing the red jersey-clad Stanley in 2012.

In the lawsuit, however, Estevez says he was asked to make numerous private, off-the-ice appearances for which he has not been paid yet. He says the hockey club owes him at least 1,400 overtime hours, the lawsuit reads, since the appearances were after hours.

Then in March, Estevez recalls, he was admitted in a Hollywood hospital and diagnosed with severe depression.

He returned to work six days later having missed one home game, according to the lawsuit.

Upon his return, Estevez says, he noticed the attitude of other employees toward him became different. His relationship with the team deteriorated until he was canned April 11.

He claims team officials wrongly accused him of taking season ticket holders’ money for private appearances.

Estevez also now claims his firing equates to discrimination since he was still being treated for depression.

A Panthers spokesman didn’t return calls for comment. Records show the club has not yet been served with the complaint.

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