June 15, 2021

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Amy Cooper Sues Former Employer for Racial Discrimination – The New York Times

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Amy Cooper, a white woman who last year became an international symbol of the routine racism that Black people face in their daily lives, is suing her former employer for firing her, arguing that she is a victim of racial discrimination.

Ms. Cooper makes the claim in a lawsuit filed this week against the investment firm Franklin Templeton, which terminated her employment a year ago after she was captured on a widely shared video in a tense encounter with a Black bird-watcher.

The lawsuit is the latest fallout from the May 2020 episode in Central Park, which touched off intense discussions about the history of white people making false, and sometimes life-threatening, accusations against Black people to the police.

The encounter, in the section of the park known as the Ramble, began with the bird-watcher, Christian Cooper, asking Ms. Cooper to leash her dog as park rules required. She refused, and Mr. Cooper said he would give the dog treats to draw the animal away from her. (Mr. Cooper and Ms. Cooper are not related.)

With Mr. Cooper recording their exchange on his phone, Ms. Cooper, clutching her dog tightly, called the police.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she said to Mr. Cooper while she dialed, her tone growing more intense as she repeated, twice, to the operator, “African American.”

Within a day, Mr. Cooper’s video, which his sister shared on Twitter, had been viewed more than 30 million times. Franklin Templeton initially suspended Ms. Cooper, who was head of insurance portfolio management at the firm and had worked there about five years, before firing her.

Despite what the video shows, Ms. Cooper argues in her suit that she was not motivated by racial animus when she called the police on Mr. Cooper.

She says in the suit, which was filed in federal court in Manhattan, that she “did not shout at Christian Cooper or call the police from Central Park on May 25, 2020, because she was a racist — she did these things because she was alone in the park and frightened to death.” She goes on to say that Mr. Cooper had selected her as a “target” and describes him as “overzealous.”

And the suit argues that Franklin Templeton did not thoroughly investigate the situation because of Ms. Cooper’s own race and gender, effectively reaching its decision to terminate her because she is a white woman.

The suit also describes an earlier encounter between Mr. Cooper and another man, who is Black and who said Mr. Cooper had approached him aggressively about an off-leash dog.

“Ms. Cooper was judged and her life was destroyed without hearing her story,” said Andrea M. Paparella, a lawyer for Ms. Cooper.

The suit’s characterization of Mr. Cooper’s behavior appeared to be at odds with a statement Ms. Cooper posted online the day after the episode, apologizing to him “for my actions when I encountered him in Central Park yesterday.”

“I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions when, in fact, I was the one who was acting inappropriately by not having my dog on a leash,” Ms. Cooper wrote in the statement.

Mr. Cooper, who has repeatedly said he does not believe that Ms. Cooper’s life should have been torn apart for her actions, declined to comment on her lawsuit.

A Franklin Templeton spokeswoman said in a statement that the company stood by its decision to fire Ms. Cooper.

“We believe the circumstances of the situation speak for themselves and that the company responded appropriately,” the spokeswoman, Stacey Coleman, said. “We will defend against these baseless claims.”

Damon T. Hewitt, the executive director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that the civil rights arguments in Ms. Cooper’s suit seemed to him to be fairly meager. He expressed concern that the suit, and others like it, could weaken the cause of stronger cases.

“I think it’s frankly inappropriate to hijack civil rights statutes with these kinds of claims,” he said. “I’m not going to say a white person can never face discrimination. I would not say that. But in this instance, there just seems to be no claim at all.”

Another civil rights attorney, Richard D. Emery, agreed and said that the weakness of the civil rights claim was likely to doom the entire suit in federal court.

“They have not alleged any plausible facts that connect Templeton’s actions to race discrimination,” he said. “The only thing it does plausibly allege is that Templeton was reacting to what they perceived as a racist act on her part. But that doesn’t mean that they’re racist in regard to her.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office eventually charged Ms. Cooper with filing a false report, among the first instances of a white person in the United States being criminally charged for calling the police on a Black person.

After Mr. Cooper chose not to participate in the investigation — he said he thought Ms. Cooper had already paid a “steep price” — prosecutors asked that she participate in a series of counseling sessions before dismissing the charge.

The prosecutor overseeing the case, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, said in court when the charge was dropped that Ms. Cooper had “learned a lot” in the sessions and that they had been “a moving experience” for her, according to Ms. Cooper’s therapist.

The district attorney’s office declined to comment on Ms. Cooper’s lawsuit.

Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting.

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