Driver sues Baltimore Ravens owner over dismissal

April 22, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

The man who spent six years as the personal driver for Baltimore Ravens owner Arthur B. Modell is suing his former boss, saying he was unjustly fired last year after taking a few days off work for medical reasons.

Jeffrey H. Dickson, 50, said he was unable to drive Modell for a few days in July because he was taking a narcotic painkiller prescribed by a physician for serious gum and sinus inflammation. Soon thereafter, he said, Modell's son, Ravens President David Modell, fired him.

"I had never missed a day's work for [Arthur Modell] in all those years," Dickson said yesterday from his new home in Florida. "I never betrayed his confidence. But I felt very, very betrayed by him."

Dickson, a former Westminster resident, had filed a complaint in September with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigates allegations of workplace discrimination. The EEOC found his case did not meet its criteria for discrimination stemming from disabilities, he said.

But Dickson's lawsuit, which was filed this month in Baltimore County Circuit Court, claims wrongful termination, not discrimination. It asks for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Dickson's salary was $43,000 when he was fired.

Kevin Byrne, Ravens vice president for public and community relations, said he was aware of the lawsuit but had not seen it. He declined to comment on the allegations in the suit.

"We believe in the judicial process," Byrne said. "We'll have our say in court, and he'll have his say in court. ... The one thing I've learned in this business is that anybody can sue."

According to the lawsuit, Dickson was having a problem with his gums in July. The Ravens' team doctor, Andrew Tucker, gave Dickson Percocet, a narcotic painkiller, and a prescription for another drug.

Dickson "was told that he could not drive after taking these medications," the lawsuit said.

On July 20, according to the lawsuit, Dickson went to Carroll County General Hospital and was diagnosed with a large abscess on his front tooth, as well as swollen gums and sinuses. Doctors there gave him antibiotics and more Percocet.

The next day, Modell called Dickson and asked Dickson to pick him up, according to the lawsuit. But Dickson said he could not drive because he was under the effects of the medication.

From July 21 to 25, according to the suit, Dickson told the Ravens he could not work because he was on medication. When he called July 26 to say he could come in, he was told Modell did not need a driver that day.

From July 29 to Aug. 6, Dickson called into work only to be told he was not needed, according to the lawsuit. Then, on Aug. 7, David Modell asked Dickson to meet him at the Ravens' training camp hotel, the Best Western in Westminster.

At the hotel, David Modell told Dickson that because of his father's health problems - Arthur Modell had suffered a stroke - Dickson's services were no longer needed, the lawsuit says.

Modell asked Dickson to sign a separation agreement, which gave Dickson eight weeks' salary in exchange for Dickson's agreement not to sue the Ravens, according to the lawsuit. Dickson refused.

Dickson said yesterday that Modell's health excuse was bogus, noting that Arthur Modell was back at work that week. Dickson said his lawsuit was about principle.

"I want to make him realize you just don't treat people this way," he said. "I was with him 24-7. I was with him in his personal life, in his business time. I attended his grandchildren's birthday parties. He told me that I was one of the family. After the way I was treated, that's one family I don't want to be a part of."

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