Attorneys spent two hours Monday discussing what it would take to settle a federal lawsuit in which Saints owner Tom Benson’s former personal assistant alleges that he was racially discriminated against while working for the Saints. The assistant, Rodney Henry, also claims he worked a significant amount of unpaid overtime before the team fired him last summer.
The two sides failed to reach agreement, however, and Henry is proceeding as if the case will go to trial, possibly in about a year, according to his attorney, Chris Williams.
“We feel very confident about Mr. Henry’s claims and look forward to the opportunity to present them in court,” Williams said.
In his lawsuit, Henry accuses Gayle Benson, the Saints owner’s wife, of making racially derogatory comments about him more than once while he was working.
Henry, who is black, alleges that Gayle Benson then had him fired June 24 for complaining to the football team’s human resources department about her behavior.
Henry also has accused the Saints of breaking U.S. labor laws by not paying him overtime even though he regularly put in 16-hour days tending to the Bensons’ various needs.
The Saints say Henry’s work agreement required him to have any employment-related issues arbitrated in front of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. They have dismissed all of the racial allegations made against Gayle Benson as “baseless.”
Henry has countered that his work agreement was invalid and that it is within his rights to seek damages from the Bensons and the team in court.
A March 23 hearing on that issue was postponed after Monday’s closed-door settlement talks were scheduled. A new hearing date is now expected to be set.
Saints attorneys Gregory Rouchelle and Leslie Lanusse declined to comment on Monday’s negotiations other than to say they will continue pushing for Henry’s claims to go to arbitration.
Henry accompanied Williams to the courthouse Monday. It did not appear that the Bensons were present.
Henry started working as Tom Benson’s personal assistant in the 1990s but temporarily left after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He resumed his job as Benson’s personal assistant after the Saints won the 2010 Super Bowl.
His lawsuit is not part of a legal battle that broke out last year when the twice-widowed Benson revealed that he was dropping his daughter and grandchildren from his succession plans in favor of Gayle — his third wife — and also was removing them from their roles in his businesses.
However, Henry was questioned by attorneys after the jilted relatives unsuccessfully challenged Benson’s mental competency in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.