Did Atlanta Hawks Arena Favor Adele, Bon Jovi Over Drake, Diddy?

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By Patrick Dorrian

The Atlanta Hawks fired a black security operations manager because he repeatedly complained about the way black entertainers and celebrities were treated at the Hawks arena compared with white stars, the worker alleges ( Hayes v. ATL Hawks, LLC , N.D. Ga., No. 1:17-cv-02510, complaint filed 7/3/17 ).

Samuel Hayes says the mistreatment of black celebrities Drake, Future, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kanye West, and many others by ATL Hawks LLC included denying their requests to bypass metal detectors when performing at or attending events in Atlanta’s Philips Arena. They also were routinely denied permission to park in or access the arena’s loading dock, he alleges in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Georgia.

But white performers and celebrities such as Adele, Bon Jovi, and Amy Schumer who appeared at or visited the arena were allowed to bypass security and park their cars in the security-sensitive loading dock area, Hayes charges. As security operations manager, Hayes had subordinates complain to him about the race-based favoritism. They also told him it had been going on for a long time and predated Hayes’ August 2016 hiring, he alleges.

When Hayes brought those complaints to his supervisor, Jason Parker, who is white, Parker was “dismissive and clearly annoyed,” Hayes asserts. In fact, it was Parker and Security Systems Manager Megan Lodestro who were behind the “extra tight security” at shows by black artists, he says. Lodestro also is white.

The race-based treatment also extended to Atlanta’s black mayor Kasim Reed, whom Parker allegedly said “thinks he’s a celebrity” and acts like he “owns” the arena. Hayes says Reed was denied permission to use Philips’ media entrance to attend a Bad Boy Family Reunion concert.

ATL Hawks disputes Hayes’ allegations.

“Samuel Hayes is a former security manager at Philips Arena. He was terminated for poor performance and his claims are baseless. We will defend vigorously,” Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Nzinga Shaw said in a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA July 7.

Allegedly Called ‘Large, Angry Black Man’

Hayes further alleges that he asked Parker the reason for the different treatment. Parker responded that it was because “hip hop acts draw a different crowd, and the white acts bring in more money,” according to Hayes.

Parker subjected Hayes to racist statements as well, including referring to him as “the large, angry Black man,” Hayes alleges. Parker also allegedly said Hayes was viewed by white celebrities and entertainers and their handlers as “aggressive” because of his large size and race.

Hayes was nonetheless praised by Parker for doing an “incredible job” while at the same time unfairly counseled and disciplined following a confrontation provoked by a white producer for Schumer, according to the lawsuit.

Hayes says he was prepared to take his complaints about the racial bias and Parker’s mistreatment to the Hawks’ executive suite but decided to wait to see if things would change under a newly hired, black vice president of security, who was pegged to become Hayes’ new supervisor. The day before that change became effective, Parker fired Hayes on the bogus charge that he had improperly disciplined two of his subordinates, Hayes alleges.

Shaw—the chief diversity and inclusion officer, who is black—later told Hayes the differential treatment had nothing to do with race and that Parker had “lined up” six or seven people who would say that Hayes was difficult to work with, Hayes contends.

The lawsuit, which was filed July 3, includes claims of race discrimination and retaliation under federal law. Parker is also named as a defendant.

Smith Law LLC represented Hayes. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for ATL Hawks or Parker.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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