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Editorial: Kim Pegula sets zero tolerance tone after incident with Sabres execs

There are some positives to be found in the resignations of two Pegula Sports and Entertainment executives after sexual harassment allegations were made against them.

The first is that, while the women involved were hesitant to complain about the alleged incident at a Buffalo bar, a male co-worker came forward and made PSE aware of what took place that night. That’s not unheard of, but it was nice to be reminded there are many good men in the world.

The larger takeaway is that Kim Pegula seems to be influencing the organization’s zero-tolerance policy for anything resembling sexual misconduct. Her leadership sends a strong message that the “boys-will-be-boys” culture that has pervaded many businesses, in and outside of sports, will not be tolerated.

Michael Gilbert, senior vice president of administration and general manager of HarborCenter, and Nik Fattey, vice president and director of hockey at HarborCenter, both resigned from PSE earlier this month. A woman who works as a server at (716) Food & Sport in the HarborCenter told The Buffalo News that the men made unwanted advances to her and a female colleague at an Allen Street bar where PSE employees were gathered after an office holiday party on Dec. 16. She said the incident left her in tears.

After a male colleague reported the evening’s events to PSE, its human resources conducted an investigation that preceded Gilbert and Fattey leaving the company. Fattey, through a lawyer, denies the allegations; Gilbert has made no public comment.

Kim Pegula took over as chief executive officer and president of PSE when Russ Brandon left last spring. Brandon’s exit followed an internal investigation into allegations of inappropriate relationships with female employees, sources told The News at the time.

Kim Pegula and her husband, Terry, own the Bills and Sabres.

Kim Pegula told The News last May that she was disheartened by Brandon’s departure.

“I dealt with the situation when I found out,” she said. “ ... I felt that something needed to be done and so I put in that process. ... We had internal discussions. Russ chose to resign, we accepted that and it was settled.”

Pegula also said she would examine whether the company needed to tighten its policies regarding fraternization between employees.

Kim Pegula seems to be setting a tone that says the #MeToo era has arrived at PSE, and that there is no room for unwanted sexual advances in the workplace or between colleagues.

The allegations against Gilbert are especially troubling as his management domain included all aspects of HarborCenter, including (716) Food and Sport. That makes for a power imbalance between the 50-year-old executive and the servers who are in their 20s.

This type of misbehavior has been tolerated for years in many types of businesses. Defenders of verbal sexual harassment defend it as flirting or banter. Good for Kim Pegula and the rest of PSE management for showing that corporate environments are no place for harassment.

Women who are owners or managers of professional sports teams stand out by their scarcity. The Bills are one of eight NFL teams with a woman in a primary ownership role. In the NBA, Buffalo native Gail Hunter is vice president of public affairs and event management for the Golden State Warriors.

Having a woman in charge is no guarantee of a working environment free of sexual misconduct, but in Kim Pegula’s case it sure seems to help.

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