Former employees sue Lions, allege age and racial discrimination

Two former Detroit Lions employees are suing the franchise and the National Football League, alleging they were fired "without justification" because of age and racial discrimination.

Robert Yanagi, the former director of video operation for the Lions, and Michael Richardson, the former assistant video director, filed the complaint in the non-criminal division of the Wayne County Circuit Court on April 5.

Yanagi, who is 58 and is of Japanese descent, and Richardson, who is 52 and African-American, were let go in January.

"We are aware of the report," the Lions said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. "Because the report involves ongoing litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time."

Angela Marie Mannarino, the attorney for Richardson and Yanagi, said her clients are trying to recoup "money damages" for lost wages as well as compensation for emotional distress from the firing. While no amount has been set of what Richardson and Yanagi are seeking, it must exceed $25,000, according to court stipulations.

"We're obviously going to be preparing, once we start the discovery phase, to have a trial in the case," Mannarino told ESPN. "If it comes to that, obviously the court has some different avenues that it will send us down to see if there's a way we can resolve the claim. And if there is any opportunity for that, you know, we certainly will take that. But if we're not able to resolve it, we're certainly preparing to try the case."

While the Lions have made personnel changes in almost every department since general manager Bob Quinn took over in January 2016, Mannarino said her clients believe they were two long-standing employees with the organization. Richardson says he made complaints about racial comments made by another Lions employee and was fired soon after. Yanagi, Mannarino said, stood up for Richardson, had also had racial comments made at him by an employee and was fired.

Mannarino said she will leave it to her clients to describe those statements throughout the course of the suit. She said there was primarily one employee who made the statements. Mannarino declined to name the employee who made those comments but said the employee has remained employed by the Lions.

"It's outside of whatever personnel changes are going on in the organization. Their termination, we think, are directly tied to the complaints that they made," Mannarino said. "And the fact that Robert is an Asian-American man, Michael is an African-American man and we think that played a part in it because these statements that were made about them were directly related to their race."

Richardson began working for the Lions as a janitor in 1989, became an office manager the next year and had worked in the video department since 1991. Yanagi was hired in 2004 by the Lions and held his same position until January.

The complaint says Lions general manager Bob Quinn criticized Richardson's work soon after taking over in January 2016. In December 2017, Richardson filed a workers' compensation claim after injuring his shoulder.

He then filed a complaint to the organization's human resources department nine days later because of "racist comments by an employee in the Detroit Lions scouting department and disparate treatment by an employee in the Detroit Lions team operations department."

Yanagi asked the same scouting department employee to refrain from making racist jokes.

The lawsuit also says Quinn knew about Richardson's racial discrimination complaint with the team's human resources department and had issues with his work performance. Yanagi, according to the report, also expressed concern that Quinn "treated him differently because of his race and therefore he was concerned about losing his job."

The Lions replaced Yanagi with Erik Kunttu, who had previously worked with the Indianapolis Colts and was the video coordinator at Syracuse when new Lions coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni were on staff at the university.

The next step in the case is for attorneys for the Lions and the NFL to respond to the complaint.