An ex-Atlanta Hawks employee is seeking punitive damages from the organization for what she describes as discrimination against white people. In a surprising twist for an organization whose HR department has dealt with racially insensitive behavior over the past few years by white execs, the plaintiff in this civil suit is a white woman accusing her black supervisor of discrimination.
Margo Kline, a former community development coordinator for the Hawks is claiming in a lawsuit filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that her former supervisor, David Lee discriminated against her race and gender. Kline makes several allegations against Lee, who is African-American.
Kline enumerated a few of her complaints.
- Lee was dismissive and exclusionary toward white employees, especially white females
- made jokes about white culture
- made it clear that he wanted to hire black individuals and did not want to hire white females for positions opening up in his department;
- expected and required more of white individuals, especially white females, than black individuals in the department;
- promoted and hired less qualified black individuals over white individuals, especially white females;
- alleges white coworkers were told not to speak with Kline or they could lose their job.
Some of these accusations are flimsy. For example, her assertion that black employees were less-qualified is problematic, at best. Kline also cites a conversation over lunch with Nzinga Shaw, the Hawks chief diversity and inclusion officer in her suit.
At that lunch, Plaintiff shared her ongoing concerns about the inappropriate and discriminatory behavior she was experiencing and witnessing. Among other things, she reminded Ms. Shaw of a group discussion a few days prior in which Ms. Shaw showed Plaintiff and Mr. Lee a picture of a political campaign at a local HBCU (Historically Black College and University) saying, “Look at this, they have a group called ‘Blacks for Trump.’” Mr. Lee stated that he refused to believe it, and “it was probably just a bunch of white people in black face.” Although Ms. Shaw laughed at the comment at the time, at the lunch on February 3, 2017, Ms. Shaw told Plaintiff that Mr. Lee’s comment was ignorant and said, “That could be a lawsuit!”
According to Kline, she was terminated after bringing her complaints to the organization’s attention. Kline alleges that the aforementioned lunch was followed by a meeting with Shaw and an HR rep (which her suit points out is also a black woman), where she was informed that she was being put on a final written warning” due to ongoing deficiencies in her conduct and/or performance.” Kline was fired three weeks later.
However, the Atlanta Hawks issued a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution defending their handling of Kline’s complaints.
In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks said: “We take all claims of discrimination seriously and have performed a thorough review of these baseless claims. The case was quickly dismissed at the EEOC level. We deny these claims and will vigorously defend against them.”
In the aftermath of Danny Ferry’s dismissal for making derogatory comments pertaining to Luol Deng’s African background, Wes Wilcox getting too comfortable with black women as well as a lawsuit from a former security guard claiming that they were treating performers and artists differently based on race, this a PR hit on the grounds of race that the Hawks did not need.
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