The Hawks’ Philips Arena is shown in 2014. (Katie Darby/Invision/AP)

A former staffer for the Atlanta Hawks filed a lawsuit against the team, accusing it of engaging in a pattern of discrimination against white employees.

Margo Kline, who worked as a community development coordinator for the team, filed her suit Friday in a U.S. District Court in Atlanta. She said she was fired in March 2017 after five years with the Hawks, and she subsequently filed a charge of race and sex discrimination and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in December gave her a notice of a right to sue.

Kline singled out a supervisor of hers, Hawks external affairs director David Lee, who she described as “a black male,” for promoting “a culture of discrimination against white individuals.” In her lawsuit, Kline accused Lee of the following:

  • “Being dismissive and exclusionary” toward white employees, particularly white women.
  • “Making jokes about white culture.”
  • “Making it clear that he wanted to hire black individuals” and not “white females” when vacancies arose in his department.
  • “Expecting and requiring more of white individuals, especially white females,” than black employees under his supervision.
  • “Promoting and hiring less qualified black individuals” over white people, particularly white women.
  • Being more apt to “offer raises and promotions” to black employees.

Kline said she was “subjected to retaliation and continued discriminatory treatment” after she complained to the Hawks about “the discriminatory animus and favoritism exhibited by Mr. Lee.” She claimed to have been unfairly scrutinized, had her work credited to others, had key information withheld from her and to have been subjected to “gossiping and speaking negatively about Plaintiff to others in the department, creating an environment where others felt empowered to ridicule and belittle” her.

“We take all claims of discrimination seriously and have performed a thorough review of these baseless claims,” the Hawks said in a statement (via the AJC). “The case was quickly dismissed at the EEOC level. We deny these claims and will vigorously defend against them.”

The lawsuit also contained an account of an alleged discussion Kline had with Lee and the Hawks’ chief diversity and inclusion officer, Nzinga Shaw — who was noted to be “a black female” — at which the latter said that a local HBCU (historically black college and university) had “a group called ‘Blacks for Trump.’ ” Lee was said to have expressed disbelief, saying that “it was probably just a bunch of white people in black face.”

Kline said that Shaw laughed at the remark but later told her it was “ignorant” and added, “That could be a lawsuit!” Shortly after that exchange, Kline asserted, she was asked to a meeting with Shaw and an official from the Hawks’ human resources department, who was also described as “a black female,” at which Kline was given a “final written warning” for “ongoing deficiencies in her conduct and/or performance.” Three weeks later, Kline said, she was fired.

Shaw also came up in a lawsuit filed against the Hawks last year, in which a black man, Samuel R. Hayes, claimed to have been fired based on his race. Hayes also accused the team, in its operation of Atlanta’s Philips Arena, of allowing white performers to routinely bypass security measures that were enforced for black artists.

In response, Shaw said that Hayes was “terminated for poor performance and his claims are baseless.”

Kline asked for punitive damages, recompense for her fees related to her legal action and a jury trial.

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