If you are going to sue your employer for discrimination, make sure your
motives are pure and your evidence is accurate. Otherwise, you might be
accused of extortion.
Benjamin Moore & Co. made just such an accusation of Clinton Tucker,
a former manager who last month had sued the company in New Jersey state
court for alleged discrimination, claiming that the company mocked him
with racially insulting paint colors such as "Clinton Brown"
and "Tucker Chocolate." In his
complaint, Tucker, a black gay man who began working in Benjamin Moore's digital
marketing group in 2011 as a web analyst and e-commerce marketing specialist,
contended that those paint colors were used to belittle him "in an
almost unfathomable situation for a large, nationally known company in the 21
"Despite Mr. Tucker's repeated complaints and protestations to
BM management about these appallingly racial color names, no action was
ever taken by Benjamin Moore to change the names of these colors and they
remain on Benjamin Moore's website and are still sold on the open
market with these racially offensive names," the complaint said.
"In addition, no one from the company ever addressed Tucker's
complaints on these racial issues despite full knowledge of the company's
Tucker claims that a hostile work environment existed at the company that
caused him to be overlooked for promotions and denied appropriate compensation
compared to his white co-workers. He alleges that he was unlawfully terminated
in March of this year following his repeated complaints regarding racially
offensive paint colors, including one called "Confederate Red".
Benjamin Moore responded to the lawsuit on Monday, and filed a
countersuit alleging defamation, trade libel, tortious interference, and breach of
loyalty, asking for damages, lost profits and other financial relief.
Apparently, when Tucker's allegations were made public last month,
the company was flooded with requests to answer for its allegedly discriminatory
practices, and received many social media messages from consumers saying
they would no longer buy the company's paint products.
The "Tucker Chocolate" color was part of an online launch for
Benjamin Moore's "Williamsburg" color collection, which
Tucker helped manage, according to his complaint. At some point, a fellow
Benjamin Moore employee mentioned the "Clinton Brown" color,
which the employee found amusing but Tucker found repulsive, the complaint
says. The Williamsburg line also has colors named "Tucker Orange"
and "Tucker Gray," which aren't mentioned in the suit.
In its countersuit, Benjamin Moore said the Clinton Brown color was part
of its "Historical Collection" about 10 years before Tucker
joined the company.
The Tucker Chocolate color, which the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
calls "Tucker House Chocolate," was named for St. George Tucker,
a historical figure, and is based on a blend developed by English colonists
in that city in the 18th century, the company says. It also says that
it was never aware of Tucker's discrimination allegations until it
received his complaint, and that the company has a policies and infrastructure
in place for addressing discrimination, which he did not use. The company
claims that Tucker was terminated as a part of a general restructuring
of the marketing department.
The takeaway? Racial discrimination in the workplace is ever present, and
it is illegal. If you are subject to such discrimination, however, and
if you make accusations that are likely to inflame public opinion, you
may face a counterclaim. Social media has become pervasive, and any lawsuit
against a major company will be plastered all over the internet. The consequences
can be unpredictable and unintended. You need to be ready to respond.
If you have been subject to racial discrimination in your New York workplace,
contact the experienced attorneys at Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP.