01 April 2013

Lions legend Lem Barney sues DMC for alleged harassment, age discrimination

Story originally appeared on Freep.

Detroit Lions legend Lem Barney filed a lawsuit this morning against the Detroit Medical Center and a supervisor there, saying he was harassed and eventually fired from his position as the director of Physician Relations and Recruitment because of his age.

The lawsuit, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court, also claims DMC violated the Family and Medical Leave Act. Barney had just returned to work after several weeks off, recuperating from back surgery, when he was terminated Feb. 21.

DMC officials reviewed the suit this morning but declined comment.

Barney, 67, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played for the Lions in 1967-78, was recruited by DMC for the public relations spot at DMC’s Sinai Grace Hospital in 2006. According to the lawsuit, beginning in 2009, a supervisor, Sherri Killebrew, showed “instant dislike” of Barney and began urging him to leave his job.

“Shouldn’t you start thinking about retiring,” the lawsuit quotes Killebrew telling Barney. “You’re in your 60s and you made a lot of money as a football player …why don’t you just retire already.” Barney says in the suit that he explained that his pension was extremely small and that he did not plan to retire until age 70.

His DMC pay was eventually cut from $80,000 to $60,000 and then to $30,000. Barney said his position was reduced to a “clerical job,” where he was assigned to hand out parking passes for families with patients undergoing surgery.

The harassment continued, the suit claims. Sometimes patients and their families would recognize him and ask for an autograph. When Barney, known for never turning down a fan, provided autographs, he was reprimanded by Killebrew, according to the suit.

“You aren’t here to sign autographs,” she told him, according to the suit. Killebrew prohibited Barney from signing autographs, which left him “devastated,” the suit says, alleging “the defendant’s only motivation was to demean Barney."

Supervisors told him that he was being fired because he had been rude to a family member, a claim he denies in the lawsuit. The suit seeks in excess of $25,000 and calls the DMC’s actions an “egregious textbook discrimination on the basis of age.”

In an e-mail to the Free Press this morning, Barney of Commerce Township said, “I despise the thought of litigation and did not want to sue DMC, but they left me with no choice. I repeatedly told my supervisor I needed to keep working, but she thought I should retire to my fat NFL pension. Of course, if I had a fat NFL pension, I would have, but I needed to work.”

Livonia attorney James Acho, in an e-mail to the Free Press, said, “The last two years of Lem’s employment, he was demeaned the way nobody should be, much less a Detroit icon who has spent nearly 50 years in this city treating people the right way and spreading goodwill. DMC should be ashamed of how he was treated.”

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