Is Patrick Bidwill, son of Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, a racist who fired a man for hiring blacks at his car dealership?
Did he refer to Cardinal football players as "overpriced niggers"? Did he call an employee who hired an African American a "nigger lover"?
That's the charge made in court papers filed last week, the latest ugly turn in a civil lawsuit brought last year by one of Patrick Bidwill's former employees.
But Raymond Hunter, an attorney for Bidwill, says that the charges are false and are meant simply to pressure Bidwill into a settlement.
The lawsuit arose when Bidwill, 32, fired Kerry Yoder, an experienced car seller who had helped the football scion create Town Center Motors, a Mesa used-car dealership. Yoder, 44, had signed a lucrative contract with Bidwill that would have eventually made him half-owner of the business. But on the lot's opening day, Bidwill fired him.
Yoder sued, claiming that Bidwill exploited Yoder's expertise without intending to honor the contract and fired him without cause. Bidwill's attorneys argued that Yoder was insubordinate and that he employed questionable methods to establish the lot.
Now, after deposing other former Bidwill employees, Yoder's attorneys claim that they have evidence Yoder was fired because he hired African-American employees at the dealership. And they apparently aim to prove in trial that Patrick Bidwill is a racist who daily makes derogatory comments about blacks, including those who play football for the Cardinals.
As evidence, Yoder's attorneys submitted portions of the deposition of Ted Capell, the man who replaced Kerry Yoder as Town Center Motors general manager. Capell testified that after he had interviewed a black candidate for a job, Bidwill took the application from him and tore it up, telling him that he didn't want a black employee.
From Capell's deposition: "[Patrick Bidwill] looked at me, he said, 'Ted, you don't understand. You've lived in Arizona all your life. You don't know what it's like to live around blacks. In St. Louis, you would walk outside. There would be so many. The hair on the back of your neck would stand up and you don't know that feeling, and I don't want to have to work with him because I have to deal with them overpriced niggers at the Cardinals every day.'"
Capell was also fired shortly after taking the job at Town Center Motors and also sued Bidwill. Unlike Yoder, however, he had no written contract, and his suit was dismissed.
Yoder's attorneys also cite the deposition of George Turpin, who worked as the lot's sales manager for about six weeks. Turpin testified that Bidwill made racist statements "on average a couple of times a day on minimum," and that Bidwill referred to Kerry Yoder as a "nigger lover."
Yoder himself testified that he had been criticized for hiring a black worker. His attorneys write: "Yoder hired an African-American gentleman to sweep the parking lot, in the middle of summer as preparations were being made to open the Dealership. When Bidwill learned this, he criticized Yoder for letting the gentleman come inside to use the restroom, told Yoder that he hated 'niggers' because they smelled, and told Yoder not to hire any more 'niggers.'"
Yoder's attorneys now plan to depose new witnesses and reinterview others to support this claim.
Bidwill's attorneys responded in a court pleading that Yoder's evidence was dubious, since much of it (the statements allegedly made to Capell and Turpin) occurred after Yoder's firing, and because it relied on the testimony of witnesses who had not been called earlier in the discovery process.
Hunter says that Bidwill has since sold Town Center Motors, but that about 20 different people worked for him there. Bidwill told Hunter that more than half were minorities. Asked specifically about African-American workers, Hunter says Bidwill estimated that three blacks worked at the dealership.
"Mr. Bidwill denies that he is a racist, that he used race as a criteria in making hiring or firing decisions, and that racial animus had anything to do with Mr. Yoder's termination," writes Hunter in a request for a pretrial conference.
Bidwill's attorneys requested the June 22 conference so they can ask Superior Court Judge Brian Hauser to exclude Yoder's new racial theory from the case. Says Bidwill attorney John Fitzpatrick: "We're trying to keep this as quiet as possible."
On Monday, Bidwill's attorneys filed an emergency motion to seal the case and keep Yoder's accusations of racism from the public.
They're hoping that Hauser will keep out the new testimony. Bidwill's attorneys say the timing of Yoder's new strategy is suspicious: With only a month until a July 6 court date, they argue, Bidwill has fewer legal options for defending himself against the charges and will have little time to find witnesses to counter Yoder's claims.
It's not the first time Bidwill's attorneys have asked to keep information in the trial from the public. Earlier this year, Judge Hauser agreed to keep secret financial documents Bidwill was forced to turn over. Yoder's attorneys had argued successfully that in order to determine Bidwill's wealth, they should get access to certain trust documents. Bidwill had told Yoder that he would be able to finance Town Center Motors with money from a family trust, and later, according to court papers, testified that he had taken $300,000 from it.
Hauser instructed Yoder's attorneys to examine the trust papers and then return them without entering them into the public record. Yoder attorney Kevin Ahern refused to discuss what was in the papers, but in Yoder's latest pleadings, his attorneys allude to Patrick Bidwill having an ownership interest in the Arizona Cardinals, an arrangement that the Bidwill family has been reluctant to disclose publicly.
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Cardinals spokesman Paul Jensen says Bidwill is simply the beneficiary of a trust with ownership interest in the team, and that it would be incorrect to refer to Bidwill as a part-owner.
Attorney Raymond Hunter says he's asked Bidwill not to talk publicly about the case, and Hunter said he was under court order not to discuss financial information revealed in the trust documents. Neither Patrick Bidwill nor his father Bill could be reached for comment.
Yoder also refused to comment for this story.
Contact Tony Ortega at his online address: email@example.com