A former security manager at Atlanta’s premier sports and entertainment arena says that black performers there face tougher security measures during events than white performers and that he was fired for complaining to his managers about discrimination.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Samuel R. Hayes accused Philips Arena operator ATL Hawks LLC and one of his superiors at the facility of routinely making security concessions for white performers that they did not offer to their black counterparts.
Hayes, who is black, managed an all-black security staff of about 40 people and handled security operations for the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and day-to-day events from August 2016 until April, according to the lawsuit.
During that time, white artists such as Adele, Radiohead and Bon Jovi were allowed to bypass metal detectors and other security measures, Hayes alleges. Black artists such as Drake, Future and Katt Williams were denied such requests, he says.
Hayes says he was abruptly fired after he and his staff complained repeatedly about the practices. His termination, he says, “was based on race, including stereotypes, myths, assumptions, and preconceived notions of blacks (especially black men) as ‘angry’ and ‘aggressive.’”
The Atlanta Hawks’ chief diversity and inclusion officer, Nzinga Shaw, told the Associated Press Thursday that the claims were baseless and that Hayes was fired for poor performance. “We will defend vigorously,” she said.
Throughout his employment, the lawsuit says, Hayes noticed that security measures were enforced based on race. Just weeks after he started his job, several staff members told him that security was enforced on racial lines and had been for a long time, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit names as a defendant Jason Parker, vice president of customer service and operations and Hayes’s direct boss. Hayes says security staff complained that “extra tight security” at black shows with black entertainers and denied black entertainers the same security privileges as their white entertainers.
“It was obvious,” the lawsuit says, “that race (not safety) determined which entertainers and celebrities were permitted to bypass security protocol, and which entertainers and celebrities were not.”
The lawsuit offers a list of instances purporting to show that white performers got special treatment.
In October, the lawsuit says, comedian Amy Schumer requested that “for convenience” her entire production team be allowed to come and go without passing through metal detectors. The arena granted the request over objections from Hayes.
At the same event, Schumer’s bodyguard asked to drop her off at the facility’s media entrance. Hayes says he rejected the request, saying even the mayor of Atlanta had been denied clearance to come through the media entrance on a different occasion.
When Hayes spoke with Parker about the issue, Parker ordered him to write an apology letter to the event’s production manager, according to the lawsuit. In the same conversation, Parker warned Hayes that “people perceive him as ‘aggressive’ because he is ‘a large black man with an intimidating voice and commanding presence,’ and advised Plaintiff to ‘watch tone’ when conversing with others,” Hayes alleges.
The lawsuit also recounts an awkward confrontation at a Radiohead concert in April when a black Atlanta Hawks security officer complained that one of the band’s crew members “became belligerent and dropped his pants” after being told he had to pass through metal detectors. A white event manager intervened and allowed the crew member to bypass the metal detectors, according to the lawsuit.
Black performers and their crews were subject to heightened security, the lawsuit says, and their requests for the same types of concessions were shot down. Rappers Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jeezy, Kanye West and the members of Migos were all denied requests to bypass metal detectors at their events, as were comedians Katt Williams, Cedric the Entertainer and Eddie Griffin, according to the lawsuit.
Hayes said he told Parker and other superiors on multiple occasions that he and his staff believed security protocols were based on race. He said his staff questioned “why so many security concessions are made for white performers but not for black performers, and why security is often heightened at black shows but not at white shows.”
In response, Parker stated that “hip hop acts draw a different crowd, and the white acts bring in more money,” according to the lawsuit.
At the end of April, Parker fired Hayes. According to the lawsuit, Parker said Hayes had to go because he suspended a staff member for insubordination and terminated another for sleeping on the job without consulting human resources first.
Hayes alleges his firing was retaliatory and based on race. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
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