Ex-Lions video-ops employees claim discrimination

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
A former Detroit Lions video-operations employee claimed general manager Bob Quinn "treated him differently because of his race."

Detroit — Two former Detroit Lions employees have filed a lawsuit against the team and the National Football League claiming they were discriminated against because of their age and race when they were fired in January.

The men, Michael Richardson, 52, of Taylor, and Robert Yanagi, 58, of Northville, were employees in the Lions’ video-operations department. Yanagi was Richardon’s boss.

The lawsuit was filed April 5 in Wayne County Circuit Court, with Richardson and Yanagi seeking damages as a result of loss of past and future earnings, emotional distress and damage to their professional reputations.

Angela M. Mannarino, lawyer for the defendants, wouldn’t specify an amount in damages being sought by Richardson, who is black, and Yanagi, who is of Japanese descent. She told The News she is waiting on an official response from the Lions and the NFL, both of whom have requested brief extensions.

The Lions issued a statement Tuesday afternoon. It read: “We are aware of the report. Because the report involves ongoing litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

In the 12-page filing, Richardson and Yanagi say they both went to Lions’ human resources in December with complaints — Richardson claiming an employee in the scouting department made racist comments, and claiming “disparate treatment” by an employee in the operations department, and Yanagi claiming general manager Bob Quinn “treated him differently because of his race.”

The two men were fired the following month. The men claim the reason they were given was that “all of the coaches” wanted them fired.

Richardson’s last employe evaluation earned him a score of 2.8 out of 5, with one coach scoring him 1, the lowest, in every category, Richardson claimed.

According to the lawsuit, Richardson’s work performance was criticized by Quinn as far back as January 2016, shortly after Quinn’s hiring, “even though he was unfamiliar with Richardson’s work.”

The lawsuit cites three violations of the State of Michigan’s Ellitott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — for race discrimination, age discrimination and retaliation. Mannarino, of Farmington Hills-based Gasiorek Morgan Greco McCauley & Kotzian, also claims Richardson’s firing was retaliation for a workers’ compensation claim. He hurt his shoulder carrying equipment earlier in December.

Yanagi was replaced by Erik Kunttu from Syracuse, where he had worked alongside new Lions head coach Matt Patricia, and Richardson by William Brown.

Yanagi was the Lions’ director of video operations since 2004, and Richardson was assistant video director since 1991. They filmed practices and games and processed the footage for the coaching staff’s immediate use following practices and games, as well as for in-game adjustments, through tablets used on the sidelines.

Yanagi joined the Lions from the San Francisco 49ers and was the first Japanese-American video-operations director in the NFL.

Richardson’s promotion in 1991 marked the first time a black man was hired as an assistant video director in the NFL. Richardson began working with the Lions as a janitor in 1989, and was promoted to office manage in 1990, before joining the video department.