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Former pro football player sues casino over remarks, pay

A retired professional football player is suing a former employer. The one-time linebacker has no qualms with New Jersey's New York Jets, where he played in 1993 during the last year of his career. Mike Merriweather charged his ex-employers at a casino with making racially-motivated comments.

The general manager of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino near Pittsburgh was Merriweather's teammate at a West Coast college. The former Jet was hired in the spring of 2011 as the casino's sports marketing director to draw athletes to the entertainment venue. Part of Merriweather's pay was dependent upon gambling proceeds from the invited athletes.

The lawsuit alleges Merriweather was the victim of race-related remarks and wrongful termination. The retired athlete said the company also failed to pay commissions Merriweather earned before he was fired a year ago.

Merriweather claims his white managers made derogatory remarks to him, insinuating that the African American ex-linebacker might become violent. One of the reasons Merriweather said he was hired was due to the retired football players "cordial demeanor." Oddly enough, the former Jet is a minister and certified counselor for people with substance abuse and anger issues.

The federal complaint, which did not list a specified damage amount, said Merriweather was shut out of communications and meetings in his department before the termination.

The interpretation of employment laws can come down to a phrase. Last summer, the New York Times reported the U.S. Supreme Court redefined the description of a supervisor in harassment cases. The ruling dropped the previous qualifications and narrowed the description of supervisors to people who take "tangible employment actions" against workers.

An employer's improper actions could include employee reassignment, demotion or unwarranted firing, among other negative workplace behaviors. The change in the law may seem subtle to an outsider and confusing to an employee targeted by harassment, but the change is enough to impact liability lawsuits.

Source: The Associated Press, "Ex-Steeler Merriweather sues western Pa. casino" Joe Mandak, Dec. 26, 2013

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