Federal lawsuit seeks $150K in damages after Brooklyn worker complained of homophobic taunts, was placed on unpaid leave
HOUSTON — Players of the Houston Rockets came under fire this week when a federal lawsuit accused several of the team’s staff and talent of hurling anti-gay slurs at a game in New York last year.
Rasean Tate, a food service work at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York. The suit alleges players laughed at him and called him a “faggot” while he catered the teams’ locker room at the center on Feb. 22, 2013.
The suit also alleges the catering company, Levy Restaurant Holdings, LLC, banned him from locker and dressing room assignments after he complained about the incident.
It cites the New York City Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination or retaliation based on “actual or perceived” sexual orientation.
Tate, who is gay, is seeking $150,000 in damages and lost wages after being suspended without pay since late January.
Tracey Hughes, senior manager of media and player relations, said the team wasn’t commenting on the case. Representatives from Levy did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit appears to be the first instance of a complaint against the Houston team for anti-gay remarks, and the Nets recently became the first NBA team to sign an openly gay player when Jason Collins joined the team last month.
Tate, 28, was hired in December 2012 by Levy to work at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. His primary responsibilities included providing “catering service to the referees, the visiting teams, the talent, and/or the dancers’ dressing and/or locker rooms.”
But on Feb. 22, Tate was finalizing the buffet while Houston Rockets players were in the locker room.
He then “began to hear laughter and taunting voices saying, ‘Get this faggot out of here!’ and ‘He’s trying to catch a sneaky peaky!’”
“These series of comments were repeated a number of times “ by players and staff, according to the lawsuit. A Brooklyn Nets representative, known only as Matt to Tate, was in charge of the visiting team’s locker room and told Tate to leave and he’d “take care of it.”
Two days later, Tate informed Darcy Tapia, Levy’s senior catering manager, of the incident and filed a report with Human Resources.
A Nets Human Resources employee later apologized to Tate and assured him the incident would be investigated and resolved, the suit states. He was later told in March that the Nets players attended “tolerance and sensitivity training” in light of the incident.
The Nets and Barclays Center aren’t part of the lawsuit.
But while the Nets seemed to address the concerns the incident raised, Tate stopped being assigned to his regular locations, “including private VIP areas, dressing rooms, locker rooms or any other shift that accrued overtime.”
“This was solely in retaliation for his complaints about the harassment and discrimination he faced,” the lawsuit states.
From events in the spring like the Jordan Brand Classic and the NBA Draft, Tate worked in other areas of the center. The suit lists about a dozen instances where Tate was reassigned and pulled from locker and dressing rooms assignments, with less experienced employees favored over him.
In August he catered the Video Music Awards and “was removed from the VIP Event Section and moved upstairs.”
Being banned from locker and dressing rooms decreased Tate’s hours and his pay, the suit alleges.
In one instance, three heterosexual employees with less seniority were placed in those areas, working more hours and even earning overtime. And a female employee was once assigned to the dressing room of a male artist, which the suit explains is against the company’s policy of allowing only same-gender employees to work in dressing and locker rooms. During an event in October, a female employee was assigned to the locker room of a male player when Tate was the only male employee available.
Tate was later written up for instances were he was given contradictory orders from managers, and on Jan. 28, he was suspended without pay for not following directions, even though it was determined he didn’t attend a pre-work meeting, the suit states. Although the suspension was disputed as a disciplinary action by Levy, Tate hasn’t been called back to work since then.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2014.