Tom Benson's fired personal assistant doesn't want NFL arbitrator to decide suit's fate

By Taryn Phaneuf | Mar 4, 2016

NEW ORLEANS — A former personal assistant to New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson claims he should have been paid for the extra hours he spent running errands and serving his employer, including waiting in line for king cake at 4 a.m. during Mardi Gras.

Rodney Henry, who was fired in June after working for Benson for 25 years, hopes to recover overtime pay because he was incorrectly classified as an exempt employee, Chris Williams, Henry’s attorney, told the Louisiana Record

A recent filing in the case includes a 2004 memo that names Henry as a Saints employee who should be receiving overtime pay. Henry received a copy of the memo at the time, but never was paid for the extra hours he worked.

“We contend that his position as personal assistant clearly is not a job that would be exempt, like a manager,” Williams said. “It’s a substantial amount of hours given the nature of the job."

Additionally, Henry, who is an African-American, claims he was fired in retaliation for filing a complaint with human resources about racially discriminatory comments made by Benson’s wife, Williams said. 

Henry is also suing to recover severance pay owed to him through "a unique agreement" with Benson. Under the agreement, if anyone other than Benson terminated Henry's employment, Henry would be entitled to two years' severance pay. Because Benson was not in the room and didn't speak to Henry about his termination, the suit argues he is entitled to that compensation, Williams said.

"We still don't know if Mr. Benson had any say in it," Williams said.

Williams filed the complaint in federal court, but the National Football League argues that the case should be resolved using its own arbitration process, which would put any decision in the hands of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

That’s unfair to his client because the commissioner has a personal relationship with Benson and works for NFL owners, Williams argued in a document opposing the league’s motion to compel arbitration. A judge will hear arguments on the matter later this month.

Henry worked as Benson’s personal assistant since 1990, except for about four years following Hurricane Katrina when he left Benson in San Antonio to return to New Orleans to rebuild. He drove Benson to work in the mornings, picked up prescriptions, and accompanied him to games and training camps, among other duties, some normal and some extraordinary.

Working at his side for so many years, Henry became Benson’s confidante, Williams said.

“He has a loyalty to Mr. Benson,” Williams said. “Rodney has some loyalty because of all these years together; but at the same time, he wants to get what’s rightfully owed to him.”

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