A Gorilla-Suited Actress Performing Antics at a Staff Meeting Delivers Racially Offensive Commentary
PUBLISHED BY: LFN Primary
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) July 14, 2015 – Entertainment at a staff function for a limousine service company turned the meeting into an offensive, racially charged event.
The incident that launched this racial harassment lawsuit began at a 2009 meeting hosted by CorpCar Houston Services, Limited CEO, Christopher Wolfington, and two managers, Stan Alcott and Andy Vanhaverbeke. When the meeting commenced, a gorilla-suited white woman came into the room after being invited in by Wolfington.
She broke into Tarzan-like calls, sang, talked about “big black butts” and “big black lips,” sat in workers’ laps and spoke graphically about bananas in pants. The performance was taped and posted to YouTube and clearly showed the two managers and the CEO laughing loudly at the gorilla’s antics. The management team said the singing telegram performance was designed to lighten everyone’s mood and raise morale.
Approximately 75 percent of the workers at the limo company were African-American, and many had asked for time off on June 19th to celebrate Emancipation Day (Juneteenth), a holiday officially recognized by the State of Texas. The employees were denied their requests and booked into mandatory training sessions for the whole week, during which time the gorilla performances occurred.
Given the historical use of primate imagery directed against African-Americans and the symbolic timing of the performance held on Juneteenth, many employees were extremely offended. One African-American limo chauffer, James L. Henry, who had requested the day off, told Wolfington and other members of the management team that the gorilla performance was racially offensive. Wolfington said he should be able to take a joke and brought the gorilla back for the next series of meetings.
From the day Henry complained, his hours were cut and he was not paid for extra work performed. He resigned his position and, along with a second plaintiff, Homer Randle, sued CorpCar Services Houston, Limited. The company said the incidents he referred to only happened a few times and were not offensive, and thus there was no harassment case.
The court disagreed stating the dancing gorilla performance was inherently and overtly racist, and one of the worst, most offensive jokes enacted in a workplace that they had ever seen. Punitive damages were handed down in this case.
“Poking fun of a person’s race, religion, sex or any other protected characteristic is not tolerated in the workplace and is considered to be harassment,” said respected Chicago employment attorney, Timothy Coffey. “If you are in a situation such as this one, you many bring your concerns to me.”