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 st century".
"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 management."
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.