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Saints Owner’s Assistant Says He’s Owed Wages

NEW ORLEANS (CN) -The long time personal assistant of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson claims in court he is still owed wages for shuttling the 88-year-old billionaire around and running his errands like standing in line at four a.m. to purchase king cakes during Mardi Gras.

Rodney Henry was personal assistant to Tom Benson for 25 years and earned $50,000 annually plus benefits, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week.

His employment contract explicitly stated that if Henry was fired by anyone other than Benson he would be entitled to a payout of two year's salary, the complaint says.

Even though the Saints misclassified Henry as an exempt employee as a way to get around paying him overtime, Henry says Benson appreciated him and looked out for him.

"Mr. Benson valued Mr. Henry's hard work and was greatly appreciative of his work efforts and loyalty to Mr. Benson and the Saints," the complaint says. "Accordingly, Mr. Benson had an Employment Agreement prepared for Mr. Henry to ensure that he was taken care of."

The lawsuit paints a picture of Henry's days as Benson's personal assistant. By his account, Henry worked long hours picking Benson up from home and bringing him home again; running necessary errands such as trips to the bank or to fill prescriptions; grocery shopping or to grab dinner for Benson and his third wife, Gayle.

During a typical work, the complaint says, week Henry's responsibilities even included delivering packages to the Archbishop's home, and during football season, away games entailed not just long hours but also transporting Benson's luggage, loading and unloading, getting Benson food and drinks and escorting him around.

"Mr. Henry worked from at least 8:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a typical workday," the complaint says. "During many work weeks, Mr. Henry was not allowed to take a lunch break or was required to work during lunch."

Still, the Saints "willfully misclassified Mr. Henry as an exempt employee and did not pay him the overtime compensation he was owed."

In January 2014, the complaint says, Benson and Henry entered into an employment agreement that said plainly that Benson could fire Henry without paying severance, but no one else could.

Under the terms of the alleged agreement, "Tom Benson himself, personally reserves the right to terminate Rodney without having to pay a two-year termination fee during his lifetime."

"This right of termination is not transferable, and may not be exercised by personal representatives, agents, successors, guardians, or attorneys-in-fact under a power of attorney of Tom Benson," the complaint says.

The agreement purportedly continues by decreeing that "If anyone other than Tom Benson terminates Rodney between the execution date of this Agreement and the date of the death of Benson, then the Club shall pay Rodney an amount equal to two times Rodney's previous year's gross salary."

The lawsuit says Henry was eventually fired not by Benson, but by Par McKinney, head of human resources for the team.

"Mr. Benson was not present during the termination meeting and at no time did Mr. Benson communicate with Mr. Henry regarding his termination or the basis of it," the complaint says.

Further, Henry claims, although he and Benson were once close, in the months before Henry was fired "he was increasingly isolated from Mr. Benson and did not have regular communication with him."

Last year, Benson's daughter Renee Benson and grand children Rita and Ryan LeBlanc asked a Louisiana state court judge to declare Benson infirm and unfit to manage his own affairs. The judge, Kern Reese of Orleans Parish, disagreed, and the matter is pending appeal.

Vicky Neumeyer of the Saints' legal department did not return a phoned request for comment.

Henry is seeking two years severance and back pay for overtime compensation and unpaid vacation.

He is represented by Christopher Williams of Williams Litigation in New Orleans.

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