• NFL hit with lawsuit accusing it of firing one-third of security team based on age • Complaint also alleges league misclassified security representatives as independent contractors and underpaid them

The National Football League’s security chief fired nine long-time league security representatives in their 60s or 70s based on age, a federal lawsuit alleges.

The April 17 filing in federal court in Manhattan comes amid a spate of recent bias allegations leveled at the league and teams by cheerleaders and others. These include afederal administrative chargefiled against the New Orleans Saints alleging gender discrimination in how the team sets and enforces fraternization and social media rules for its players and cheerleaders. They also includeaccusationsthat Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson subjected team workers to sexual and racial harassment.

The security chief, former District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier, “let it be known” immediately that there was “a new sheriff in town” when she took the job, the nine older security representatives say in their court complaint. She fired the nine men without making any attempt to get to know them or their work, the complaint says.

Lanier and the NFL instead “concocted” a bogus rehiring process requiring league security representatives to reapply for their jobs, the complaint alleges. The nine plaintiffs all did but weren’t even granted interviews despite their significant qualifications and experience, their proven track records of good performance, and the high regard in which they were held by Lanier’s predecessors, they say.

Each of the nine men had more than two decades of law enforcement experience prior to being hired by the NFL and they were all licensed private investigators and “experts” in the field of security, according to the complaint. NFL security representatives provide stadium security for NFL teams on game days and perform prescription drug audits, background checks, and other investigative services, the complaint says.

The nine men had worked for the league for 11 to 49 years, and their replacements are between 10 and 25 years younger than them, the complaint says.

The lawsuit also accuses the NFL of violating federal and New York wage laws by misclassifying its security representatives as independent contractors when they’re really employees entitled to overtime and other extra compensation. The misclassification further resulted in the violation of federal employee benefits law, the complaint says.

The NFL didn’t immediately respond April 18 to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

Alleged Admission of Bias Cited

The NFL and Lanier’s age bias is laid bare, the complaint says, by the fact that the nine fired security representatives accounted for approximately one-third of the league’s staffing for the position—one for each of the 32 teams plus two others—and 75 percent of the security representatives who were age 60 or older.

In addition to that statistical evidence, there’s also anecdotal evidence of the NFL and Lanier’s discriminatory motive, the complaint says. On the day of the firings, Lanier admitted to the league’s then director of security that she was terminating one of the nine men—James Buckley—because he was 70 and therefore too old to walk the stadium of the team he was assigned to, the complaint says.

That was so even though Lanier acknowledged that “everyone loves JB,” according to the complaint. Buckley, the complaint says, is an “avid gym-goer” who “celebrated his 70th birthday by doing shoulder shrugs with 600 pounds.” That shows Buckley, like the other eight men, was “mentally fit, physically fit, and vibrant” at the time of his discharge, the complaint says.

The lawsuit alleges the NFL violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act as well as state and local anti-age-bias laws. The nine workers’ job rights were protected by the ADEA because they’re “employees” under that law despite the league’s intentional misclassification of them as independent contractors, the complaint says.

Their status as employees is shown by the league’s control of their job duties and how they were carried out, the workers say. The NFL Best Practices for Stadium Security, for example, “dictates” the duties of that work and the manner in which it is performed, they say.

The misclassification also resulted in the denial of pay for additional work, wage theft, and the denial of employee pension and welfare benefits, according to the complaint. The men seek compensatory and punitive damages along with other relief.

The case isBuckley v. The Nat’l Football League, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:18-cv-03309, complaint filed 4/17/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington atpdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland atthyland@bloomberglaw.com