Tom Benson’s former personal assistant sues Saints, claiming unpaid overtime for years of 16-hour days _lowres

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson holds a miniature replica of a statue of him during an unveiling ceremony outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Behind him are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, left; Benson's wife Gayle Benson; former personal assistant Rodney Henry; and estranged granddaughter and former Saints co-owner Rita LeBlanc, right. Henry sued the Saints on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, alleging that the team owed him unpaid overtime. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) ORG XMIT: LAGH102

Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson couldn't remember exactly where his football team won the Super Bowl in 2010. Or the name of his basketball team's most famous player. 

He was giving a deposition, getting grilled by an attorney for a former employee pursuing a labor complaint against him with the NFL, and the 89-year-old was clearly fuzzy on some of the details that came up. 

Yet Benson was firm about why he had fired his former personal assistant in June 2015, alleging lapses in performance. And he was insistent that he had done nothing wrong in letting Rodney Henry go. 

"He disappointed me so bad," Benson said. "I didn't want to think about him anymore."

A transcript of the deposition, conducted in late 2016, was obtained this week by The New Orleans Advocate after the newspaper received a copy of it from an anonymous email address. 

The Advocate confirmed the authenticity of the document, which offers the first substantial glimpse of the many hours of closed-door questioning Benson underwent during numerous lawsuits over the past few years, one of which involved whether he was still mentally capable of running his business empire. 

In that case, brought by estranged relatives hoping to keep their place in Benson's succession plans, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese questioned Benson privately and decided that while he suffered from "mild cognitive impairment," he was still capable of making his own decisions. 

The newly revealed transcript shows Benson sometimes struggling to remember names or detailed events but on the whole aware of the legal case in question and arguing his own side forcefully. 

Benson and Henry, his former employee, are awaiting the outcome of arbitration aimed at settling their dispute, which is to be decided by an NFL arbitrator. 

Attorneys on both sides refused comment on the 220-page transcript when contacted Thursday, citing a league confidentiality order on the case. 

Benson's lawyer, Leslie Lanusse, said in a statement, "I am surprised and disappointed that someone provided a copy of the deposition in violation of the order." 

Over the course of the deposition, Benson, now 90, explained that he fired Henry after more than two decades of service because Henry had started to disappear for long stretches. Benson testified that he also found a whiskey bottle in Henry's car and someone in his organization described finding another bottle hidden in Henry's office. In his questioning, Henry's lawyer seemed to challenge the accuracy of those claims. 

Pressed for more reasons, Benson said there were others but that he couldn't specifically recall them. Lanusse then had Benson also explain how he came to see Henry as dispensable when the Saints owner hired round-the-clock nurses following knee surgery. 

At one point, Henry's attorney, Chris Williams, asked Benson why he had testified that Henry had been with him during the Saints' Super Bowl victory when Henry had not been working for him at the time. 

Benson acknowledged that he remembered neither where the Super Bowl had been played — Miami — nor who his assistant was at the time. 

During another set of questions, apparently aimed at establishing how close Benson and Henry had been, Benson was shown a photo of the two men with Pelicans star Anthony Davis. 

"Who is this?" Williams asked.

"It's Rodney and a basketball player," Benson said. "Oh, hell, I forget his name. Let me — he's a great player for us. Tell me his name, and I will tell you yes or no."

Williams said Anthony Davis.

Benson said, "Yes, that's it." 

In the course of the interview, Benson also expressed the hurt he felt over the legal cloud that had enveloped him. 

Referring to his estranged relatives, he said, "They tried to make me say I was insane." 

He also mentioned that he had helped pay tuition for at least one of Henry's children, saying, "I thought he was a friend of mine. ... I liked his company."

Henry filed a federal lawsuit last year claiming that Benson's wife, Gayle, discriminated against him because he is black, and that the Saints violated his civil rights by firing him after he spoke up about what she did. He also claims he is owed back pay for overtime that the team refused to give him. 

The Saints have denied all of Henry's allegations, and a judge ruled that the case needed to be tried by an NFL arbitrator rather than a federal court at that point.

In the deposition, Benson said he wasn't sure whether or not Henry received overtime or should have been paid it.

He did say that he believed Henry received benefits "a lot of people would have been glad" to have, including a company car and access to Benson's suite for games. 

Williams suggested both perks were necessary for Henry to do his job as Benson's assistant. 

Henry held that position through the 1990s and temporarily left after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He resumed the job under Benson after the Saints won the 2010 Super Bowl. 

Henry's lawsuit was separate from the complex legal battle that erupted when Benson revealed a couple of years ago that he was dropping his daughter and grandchildren from his succession plans in favor of his third wife, Gayle.

However, Henry has alleged he may have been fired because Gayle suspected him of being in league with Benson's granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc, after she was cut out of Benson's life. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

(504) 636-7433