On the field, the Kansas City Chiefs are on a roll with five victories in a row. In the courtroom, however, the Chiefs haven’t fared as well lately — they’re fighting an age discrimination lawsuit.
Unless it’s settled out of court, the case, which reaches the very top of the Chiefs’ hierarchy, is a long way from reaching a resolution.
In 2010, Chiefs’ fans watched quarterback Matt Cassel and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe on the field. Meanwhile, Steve Cox, a maintenance supervisor at Arrowhead Stadium, put in long, behind-the-scenes hours.
Whether it was rainy, hot or frigid, Steve Cox would roam the stadium on game days checking out potential problems. Cox says he loved his work, but he was fired in October 2010 because, he says, of his age. Cox, 61 at the time, was replaced by a 37-year old.
The lawsuit he filed against the Chiefs is still in litigation, and Cox isn’t talking about it. But his attorney, Lewis Galloway, says the case represents a problem on a bigger scale.
“I have seen, actually, in my practice, a number of age discrimination cases because more than a third of American workers are older than 50,” says Galloway. “I think there is an unfair society-wide stereotype that older workers are necessarily more expensive and less productive. I disagree with that.”
The case has drawn a lot of attention, and not just because it involves a high-profile sports franchise in Kansas City.
Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys urged the state Supreme Court to send the case back for a retrial.
“I do a lot of employment discrimination work and some of the questions that came up in the Cox case in terms of admissibility of evidence are questions that have broad application that come up time and time again in employment discrimination cases,” says Marty Meyers, who represents the organization.
The National Employment Lawyers Association is also observing this case with interest.
“To get to a jury in the state of Missouri, an employee has to have a case that has merit on the facts and has merit on the law,” says Paul Bullman, head of the Kansas City Chapter. “In other words, the facts must be there and there must be a law that supports that within reason. In this case, it’s clear that Mr. Cox has a case that is valid both under the facts and the law.”
Since Cox sued the Chiefs in 2011, the case has been tied up in the courts. A jury three years ago ruled in favor of the Chiefs, but the Missouri Supreme Court sent the case back to trial last September after it found the trial judge wrongly excluded key evidence.
Attorney Dennis Egan represented Cox before the Supreme Court. He says the trial court should have heard from the Chiefs’ chairman of the board, Clark Hunt.
“I may touch on an error in quashing owner Clark Hunt as a witness in this case,” Egan told the Missouri Supreme Court in oral arguments.
The state Supreme Court recently denied the Chiefs’ request to reconsider its decision.
Before the 2015 season began, Hunt was relatively unconcerned when asked about the ongoing court battle.
“Any time that there’s a legal matter that you’re involved in, you’re always concerned,” responded Hunt. “I don’t specifically have concern on that issue though.”
That feeling may change.
Possibly as early as next week, Galloway says he will file the paperwork to take Clark Hunt’s deposition.
“The Supreme Court held that there are many issues and many questions that only Mr. Hunt can answer as it relates to our theory of this case,” says Galloway. “I expect fully that Mr. Hunt will be deposed sometime in the next several months.”
In his biography, Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports, author Michael MacCambridge cited two characteristics that go all the way back to the early stages of Lamar Hunt’s family life: loyalty and honesty. MacCambridge wrote that a “pattern was set: Lamar avoided direct conflict whenever he could.”
That doesn’t seem to have rubbed off on his son. This age discrimination case is acrimonious, and unless it’s settled, Clark Hunt may have no choice but to testify.
Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.