A former security manager for the Hawks’ arena in Atlanta is suing the team for firing him based on his race, and for treating performers and celebrities at the arena differently depending on their race. Samuel Hayes III claims that white performers were routinely allowed to bypass security measures that were enforced for black artists.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court against Atlanta Hawks LLC, Hayes said that he was hired in August to manage the day-to-day security at Philips Arena, the operating rights to which are held by the team’s ownership group. Hayes said his firing in April “was based on race, including racial stereotypes, myths, assumptions, and preconceived notions of blacks (especially black men) as ‘angry’ and ‘aggressive.’”
In the court filing, Hayes said that artists such as Axl Rose, Bon Jovi, Adele, Radiohead and Ariana Grande requested and were granted permission to bypass the arena’s metal detectors. He claimed that, in October, comedian Amy Schumer asked that her entire production team be allowed that courtesy, which was granted.
By contrast, according to the lawsuit, performers who were denied permission to bypass the metal detectors included Drake, Future, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Jeezy, The Dream and Migos, as well as comedians Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin, D.L. Hughley and Katt Williams. In addition, black celebrities attending events there, including rapper Nelly and actor Tyler Perry were denied certain privileges granted to some white attendees.
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The Hawks’ Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Nzinga Shaw, told media outlets that Hayes was “terminated for poor performance and his claims are baseless.” She added, “We will defend vigorously.”
Hayes claimed that when he asked Jason Parker, the Hawks’ Vice President of Customer Service and Operations, why security was tightened for concerts attracting large black audiences, but not for ones attracting mostly white fans, he was told that “hip-hop acts draw a different crowd, and the white acts bring in more money.”
Hayes also said that, after not allowing Schumer access to the media entrance because the same access had previously been denied to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Parker reprimanded him and demanded that he write the comedian a letter of apology. Hayes claimed that Parker, who is white, told him that “people perceive him as aggressive because he is a large black man with an intimidating voice.”
In his discussions with Parker, Hayes said that, when expressing concerns with what he saw as prejudicial treatment at the arena, he cited the Hawks’ recent commitment to racial diversity. In 2014, the organization had been rocked by then-general manager Danny Ferry’s comment that free agent Luol Deng had “some African in him,” which sparked an investigation that revealed a 2012 email in which then-owner Bruce Levenson complained of the “overwhelming black audience” at Philips and its potential deterrence to “southern whites.”
According to the lawsuit, the Hawks fired Hayes for suspending one staffer and dismissing another without checking first with human resources, a step he said was never spelled out to him and an issue that had never before been raised with him. He is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.