As a member of Generation X, I am a huge ‘Seinfeld’ fan. One classic episode features the gang going to the mall and losing their car in the parking ramp. After hours of searching, Jerry can’t hold it anymore and pees in the corner. Of course, he is busted by a security guard.
To explain his transgression, Jerry claims he suffers from a condition that causes him to have no control over when he has to go and explains that doctors have told him that when he feels it, the best thing to do is just release it. Otherwise, he could get Uromysitisis poisoning and die.
In another installment, George suddenly has to go while he’s showering after working out at his health club. Like Jerry, George’s act has an eyewitness. He admits sheepishly, “the guy in the shower opposite saw me. He gave me a dirty look.”
When his friends are flabbergasted as to why he would do such a thing, George expounds, “What was I supposed to do? Get out of the shower, put on my bathrobe? Go all the way down to the other end? Come all the way back?” When Elaine suggests, “Ever hear of holding it in?,” George replies, “Oh, no, no, that’s very bad for the kidneys.”
Unfortunately, the events surrounding Al Sobotka’s recent firing sound like an episode of ‘Seinfeld.’
Sobotka worked for the Detroit Redwings for 51 years, driving the Zamboni for the majority of his career. He was beloved by fans in the Motor City and was well known for twirling octopi over his head after hockey fans tossed them on the ice (the odd tradition began in 1952, as NHL teams needed eight playoff wins to earn the Stanley Cup – one win for each tentacle).
In 1971, a then 17-year-old Sobotka got a job at Olympia Stadium, starting on the cleanup crew. As he worked his way up to operations manager, he never missed a single game, wouldn’t take vacation during the hockey season, and only used one sick day in entire career.
Sobotka suffers from benign prostatic hypertrophy, which causes a frequent and uncontrollable need to urinate. On February 2 of this year, Sobotka drove one of the Zamboni machines into its garage at Little Caesars Arena after cleaning the ice at the main rink. Because of his condition, Sobotka suddenly felt the need to urinate. The nearest facility was 60-70 feet away, so instead, he peed in one of the drains that lead into a sewer, designed to handle the ice runoff from the machines. The area is closed to the public, and access limited to the all-male ice crew.
Like Jerry and George, Sobotka’s act was witnessed – by a fellow employee. Two days later, Sobotka was called into a meeting with his supervisor and a human resources representative. After being initially suspended for a week, Sobotka was terminated on February 17. Coincidentally, the whistleblower now has Sobotka’s job.
So, Sobotka sued Olympia Entertainment, which owns the Redwings, in Wayne County Circuit Court. The suit alleges that Sobotka’s rights were violated under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prevents employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of his age (he’s 68) and disability. He is seeking compensatory damages, exemplary damages, and court fees, and he wants his old job back.
According to the suit, in late January, Sobotka was on a Zoom call with Tim Padgett, vice president of venue operations, who told Sobotka he was “getting old.” Sobotka’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, added that management was aware of his prostate problem.
While he may be 68, Sobotka is clearly not ready to be put on ice.