Suit includes challenging attendance figures

NEW ORLEANS -- A new lawsuit filed against the New Orleans Hornets claims the team deprived sales personnel of commissions by
falsely recording sales of private suites as if they were group
ticket sales in less expensive sections -- a practice that also
could have resulted in inflated attendance figures.
The lawsuit is one of several new actions filed this week
against the Hornets, who already were accused of failing to pay
overtime in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year. There are 12
plaintiffs in that first case, one of whom still works for the
The new legal actions include a request for a protective order,
filed in response to allegations in sworn affidavits, that Hornets
executives have sought to intimidate other employees who might
qualify to join the federal overtime lawsuit by threatening firings
and bad references, which would be illegal. The request also
alleges that certain executives have made false statements about
the lawsuit in an effort to discourage employees from
``This is not something you want to put your name on, because
you will never get a good reference of this place,'' Hornets
executive Christy McKearn told former employee Chris Stant during
his exit interview, according to an affidavit.
While some of the plaintiffs were fired, Stant quit, despite
executives' urging him to stay, because of what he termed
``unbearable'' working conditions and his director's ``questionable
business practices,'' the affidavit said.
In another affidavit, Penny Middleton, the former director of
personnel and payroll, said an employee confided to her that a fan
relations executive told her staff they were ``lucky they didn't
join the suit because it was about to be dismissed.''
``The employee told me she wanted to join the lawsuit but feared
for her job,'' Middleton said.
Hornets spokesman Scott Hall said the team had no comment,
because the allegations are part of pending litigation.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit seeking compensation for unpaid
commissions, filed Wednesday in state district court, accuses the
Hornets of using revenues from single-game suite sales to buy large
groups of inexpensive tickets. Managers would do so by requiring
sales representatives to ask for payment up front. They would then
use a portion of the payment to supply the suite with food and
drinks, and spend the rest on tickets elsewhere in the arena, the
lawsuit contends.
The computer system would reflect that the suite was
complimentary, and the lawsuit alleges the scheme made it
impossible for sales people to track whether they were owed
commission for suite or group sales. There are seven plaintiffs in
that lawsuit.
The scheme also could have boosted official attendance figures
by reflecting sales for large numbers of inexpensive tickets when
the money paid really only should have reflected the size of the
group in the suite.
The New Orleans Hornets official average attendance for last
season was more than 14,221, although state officials who manage
the arena have said actual "turnstile" attendance was closer to
9,000. Also, the Hornets told The Associated Press earlier this
year that they had inflated attendance by taking tickets owner
George Shinn had originally bought for charities and reselling them
for high-demand games. The team reflected those double sales in
their books as tickets purchased for other games where many seats
were still available.
In addition to the overtime and commission lawsuits, a third
lawsuit, with three plaintiffs, alleges the Hornets violated
contracts with inside sales employees, who say they never received
the annual base salaries they were promised when hired.
Stewart Niles and Dan Buras, attorneys in all three lawsuits,
are seeking to have the overtime lawsuit tried as a collective
action, meaning every former and current Hornets employee since the
team moved to New Orleans would be officially notified by the court
of their right to join. A hearing on that matter is set for Aug. 17
before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan.