Attorneys for the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans failed to reach a settlement with Tom Benson's former personal assistant in his lawsuit Monday. Rodney Henry alleges he's owed back overtime pay for hours worked and claimed Gayle Benson used racial slurs about him.
The Saints fired Henry last year after the high-profile interdiction trial over whether Tom Benson is still fit to handle his own business and personal affairs.
Henry sued the Benson family and the Saints in November 2015. In the complaint, Henry said he had reported allegations of racial discrimination by Gayle Benson to the Saints’ human resources department. Henry also claims his firing stemmed from an increasingly strained relationship because of his testimony in a deposition in the interdiction trial.
“We think that they may not have been happy with the substance of his testimony and at the same time, the timing of Mr. Henry's termination, literally within a week of the judge issuing the ruling in the interdiction proceeding, we find to be suspect,” said Christopher Williams, Henry’s attorney, shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
However, lawyers for the Benson family say that's not the case.
"I took Rodney Henry's deposition before the interdiction trial. He never mentioned any of the things that he's talking about now,” said Phil Wittmann, the attorney representing the Bensons’ interests in the interdiction case.
Henry's lawsuit claims he's owed overtime and back pay and says the Saints violated an agreement Henry signed with Tom Benson in January of 2014.
“Mr. Benson called Mr. Henry into his office one day, another gentleman was present, a lawyer for Mr. Benson, and Mr. Benson said that he had a document prepared so that if he didn't personally fire Rodney, that Rodney would be taken care of,” Williams said.
The agreement would have given Henry two years' salary in severance pay if anyone other than Benson fired him.
Henry says Saints' Human Resources Director Pat McKinney is the one who let him go a week after Judge Kern Reese found Tom Benson competent.
After the lawsuit was filed, Saints' spokesman Greg Bensel said in a statement that the Saints fired Henry because it was in the organization's best interests, and said Tom and Gayle Benson were "extremely hurt" by Henry's “ridiculous allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation.”
“We believe that Mrs. Benson intentionally and knowingly tried to isolate Mr. Henry from Mr. Benson. We saw it begin to happen when the Saints were in training camp at Greenbriar, and we saw it intensify when the interdiction proceedings were instituted,” Williams said in January.
At that time, Saints' spokesman Bensel said the Bensons and the Saints would “vigorously defend” the claims made by Henry in his lawsuit.
The Saints are trying to compel the parties go to arbitration through the NFL in the case, while Henry's attorney is arguing the specialized knowledge Commissioner Roger Goddell has in hearing cases about players shouldn't pertain to a case involving a personal assistant.
A Federal Judge is expected to hear oral arguments on the issue in the coming months.