‘Central Park Karen’ Amy Cooper sues employer for firing her over bird watcher race row

The lawsuit argues Amy Cooper was not motivated by racism

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 27 May 2021 14:09
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Man responds after video shows white woman ranting at him in Central Park

Amy Cooper, who went viral and became known as “Central Park Karen” last year after she called New York police and falsely reported a Black birdwatcher was threatening her life, is suing her former employer, arguing they fired her without properly investigating the incident.

Ms Cooper lodged her complaint in a federal court in New York on Tuesday, arguing the public backlash against her interaction with Christian Cooper (unrelated), and her firing the next day from investment firm Franklin Templeton, “caused her such severe emotional distress that she was suicidal.”

“Even a perfunctory investigation would have shown that Plaintiff did not shout at Christian Cooper or call the police from Central Park on May 25, 2020 because she was a racist—she did these things because she was alone in the park and frightened to death after being selected as the next target of Christian Cooper, an overzealous birdwatcher engaged in Central Park’s ongoing feud between birdwatchers and dog owners,” the lawsuit alleges.

The firm defended its handling of the firing.

“We believe the circumstances of the situation speak for themselves and that the Company responded appropriately,” it told The Independent in a statement. “We will defend against these baseless claims.”

In the video, which soon went viral and has been viewed roughly 45 million times, she can be seen standing at a distance from Mr Cooper. The man, a prominent birder and LGBTQ activist, said he asked her to put a leash on her dog in an area of New York’s Central Park known as the Ramble, which requires dogs to be restrained.

After she refused, Mr Cooper said he planned to offer the dog a treat. When the video begins, Ms Cooper can be heard saying, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” as she grows closer and asks Mr Cooper to stop recording, continuing to emphasize the man’s race as she speaks with a 911 dispatcher.

Police arrived at the scene and no arrests were made. She was charged last July with filing a false police report, but the charges were dropped after she got therapy, including instruction on avoiding racist bias.

The incident, which occurred on the same day a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, struck a chord with many Americans, who viewed Ms Cooper’s actions as part of a long history of racist paranoia from white people about Black men putting them in danger with the police.

“I am one of the few male African-Americans who birds the Ramble regularly,” Mr Cooper told The New York Times at the time. “And I have always been aware that if I am crawling around behind a shrub trying to catch a glimpse of that rare bird, holding a metal object in my hands, I will be perceived differently than a white man if police come across that scene.”

He said he was uncomfortable with the mass outrage directed at Ms Cooper, adding to the Times, “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.”

In addition to being fired, Ms Cooper’s action caused the rescue society where she adopted her dog to reclaim it, after the pet can be seen thrashing uncomfortable on the leash as a frantic Ms Cooper drags it across a lawn while she calls with police.

Following the incident, Ms Cooper apologized, though then as now, she downplayed the racist dynamics at play in the incident.

“I am well aware of the pain that misassumptions and insensitive statements about race cause and would never have imagined that I would be involved in the type of incident that occurred with Chris,” she said in a statement at the time. “I hope that a few mortifying seconds in a lifetime of forty years will not define me in his eyes and that he will accept my sincere apology.”

Mr Cooper, in addition to being on the board of the New York Audubon Society, a birding group, is a prominent LGBTQ activist known for his work with GLAAD and helping Marvel write its first comic book with an out character.

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