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Black former Nets staffers charge racial discrimination, claiming white boss uncomfortable with their politics; team defends employment decisions re seasonal locker room attendants

On 2/2/21, the New York Daily News reported, Two former Nets employees claim they were let go over race and politics, want to unionize league staffers, citing a public statement on Instagram--since removed--that the workers "have reason to believe that we were terminated due to racial bias, as well as for our beliefs and stance on the Black Lives Matter movement.:

The article noted that Eddie Bolden and Juwan Williams were the only seasonal attendants not brought back for the 2020-21 season.

“The decision on whether or not to rehire seasonal part-time employees is an organizational matter that is carefully and thoughtfully evaluated,” a Nets spokesperson said at the time. “We are entirely comfortable with our decision not to rehire these two individuals.” And a "Nets source" said the number of team attendants was cut because of the pandemic.

Yesterday, as reported by the Daily News and Patch, Bolden and Williams filed a federal lawsuit making the same charges. See the complaint at bottom.

“Our company takes pride in the fact that our employees reflect the diverse community that we serve, including within the seasonal part-time team attendant positions in which the plaintiffs were previously employed,” team spokeswoman Mandy Gutmann told the Daily News. “All employment decisions are carefully and thoughtfully evaluated and we are entirely comfortable with the employment decision taken with respect to the plaintiffs.”

A clash with a supervisor

The lawsuit notes that Bolden started work for the Nets in September 2014, while Williams started in September 2012, and both were "eventually promoted to manager and then to co-Team Captain of the equipment team."

But "their supervisor, Joe Cuomo, who is Caucasian," blocked their progress while helping non-Black workers.

A lawsuit is an allegation that must get tested in court, but it looks like the plaintiffs have some evidence:
Throughout the entirety of Bolden’s employment, he was vocal about cultural racial disparities – specifically, around police brutality. Williams also participated in these discussions and was vocal on these issues. Whenever Bolden mentioned these issues in front of Cuomo, he received significant push-back. Cuomo also expressed his discontent when Williams and others, including NBA players, engaged in a peaceful form of protest against racism by wearing the hood on their hoodie before games.

...Cuomo did not agree with the protests proffered by athletes, and he made his view known, privately and more publicly. In one social media post regarding Marshawn Lynch, a National Football League running back who chose to sit while the National Anthem was played at his game, Cuomo commented:

I disagree with both protests. While Lynch’s right to protest is more civil, I feel like his message is eroded since he’s disrespecting the flag in the process.

...Notably, Cuomo expressed such views on Bolden’s personal social media account.
Interestingly, while Nets and other NBA players were vocal about racial issues--and the team owner welcomed peaceful protest at the arena plaza--the lawsuit charges that "Cuomo specifically prohibited Bolden and Williams from speaking to any Nets players regarding ongoing racial inequities in the nation." Some saw an irony.

Going up the ladder

The lawsuit says that Bolden and Williams appealed to Nets GM Sean Marks who "told Bolden that he and Williams were a joy to be around" but assigned a deputy Ryan Gisriel to investigate.

"Gisriel further shared that Cuomo justified the decisions not to have them employed going forward by labeling – for the first time – Bolden and Williams as “lazy” and stating they were unable to follow directions," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also charges retaliation, saying Bolden was unable to get a job for another team.

It's worth noting that, while most of the Nets and (league) players are Black, Matt Sullivan's recent book on the 2019-20 Nets, Can't Knock the Hustle, noted that Marks’ inner circle was “primarily white dudes who liked to play golf together."

On the basketball operations staff, only 13 of 58 were Black--and three were brought on personally by stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

"Culturally, you're disconnected--you need to reflect the culture that you're situated in, and it didn't quite make the mark," Maruice Stinnett, who formerly ran diversity and inclusion efforts for parent company BSE Global. "It was a disconnect with the people in Brooklyn, with Barclays, with the Brooklyn Nets."

Stay tuned. These kind of lawsuits usually don't go to trial, but get settled--and the terms are often not clear.