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Alleged statement made by Bills owner Terry Pegula will take center stage in Jim Trotter lawsuit

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by veteran reporter Jim Trotter against the NFL over the termination of his employment with NFL Network contains a variety of fascinating and newsworthy allegations. The most significant arguably comes from comments attributed to Bills owner Terry Pegula.

Beginning at paragraph No. 125 of the civil complaint, Trotter alleges that, during a September 3, 2020 zoom meeting involving roughly 40 NFL Media newsroom employees, an unnamed reporter shared an alleged remark made by Pegula.

“During the meeting, an NFL Media reporter described a conversation he had with . . . Pegula in which Mr. Pegula was specific about the recent emphasis on social activism by NFL players, and in particular support for Black Lives Matter,” the complaint explains. “As reported, Mr. Pegula stated that, ‘If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is. This remark was so offensive and racist that the people in the meeting appeared to be frozen, unsure how to even react.”

Trotter claims that he spoke up during the September 3, 2020 meeting, asking whether there would be a discussion about Pegula’s alleged comments. Trotter was told that the league was investigating the situation. He repeatedly sought updates, and he was repeatedly told the league office is investigating.

After nearly a year, Trotter was told that the league described it as “an HR matter and that’s the end of it.”

Trotter responded to a supervisor by saying, “So we are sweeping this under the rug?” Said the supervisor, “I can only tell you what I’ve been told.”

After the alleged comment emerged, Pegula issued a strongly-worded denial.

“The statement attributed to me in Mr. Trottter’s complaint is absolutely false,” Pegula said in a tweet posted without context to the team’s Twitter account, which has more than 1.7 million followers. “I am horrified that anyone would connect me to an allegation of this kind. Racism has no place in our society and I am personally disgusted that my name is associated with this complaint.”

Whether Pegula said what he said will become one of the critical aspects of the case. The harder he and the league double down in denying it, the greater the stakes will become. If Trotter can persuade a jury that Pegula said it, the jury in turn will be more likely to believe the rest of Trotter’s allegations — especially since the jury necessarily will have found Pegula’s denial and the league’s support of it to be not credible.

That’s how cases of this nature often turn. If the employer is caught lying about something clear, the jury becomes more inclined to believe it is also lying regarding the more subtle question of motivation for ending someone’s employment.

And Trotter will be able to attempt to prove that Pegula said what he said. Starting with a sworn deposition of Pegula, and continuing with a sworn deposition of the unnamed NFL Media reporter who attributed the comment to Pegula.