Woman who called 911 on Black birdwatcher in viral video loses suit against ex-employer

·4 min read
Christian Cooper/AP

The New York woman who confronted a Black birdwatcher in a video seen by millions — earning her the nickname “Central Park Karen” — has lost a lawsuit in which she argued her former employer wrongfully fired her over the altercation.

After Franklin Templeton announced a review of the 2020 incident and fired portfolio manager Amy Cooper, she sued the holding company in 2021. Cooper claimed the company depicted her as a racist and discriminated against her race and gender as a white woman by firing her in a 30-page complaint.

Now Cooper has lost her lawsuit after a federal judge in Manhattan dismissed her claims of defamation and race and sex discrimination on Wednesday, Sept 21.

McClatchy News contacted Cooper’s attorneys for comment on Sept. 22 and was awaiting a response.

The case goes back to May 25, 2020, when Amy Cooper encountered birdwatcher Christian Cooper, whom she is not related to, in New York City’s Central Park while walking her dog, court documents state. Christian Cooper said he began filming after he asked Amy Cooper to put a leash on her dog and things “took a dark turn.”

In the video, Amy Cooper is seen calling 911 and telling police there was “an African-American man threatening [her] life” and pleading with them to send officers to the park. To date, the incident has gained millions of views on Twitter after it was shared by Christian Cooper’s sister.

Amy Cooper argued that in the aftermath, the video “became international news as a racial flashpoint” and she was soon wrongfully seen as a racist, “privileged white female ‘Karen’” because of a few public statements made by Franklin Templeton, according to her lawsuit. This was the context surrounding her defamation claim against the company.

The evening of the incident, Franklin Templeton wrote on Twitter that the company was investigating the situation involving Amy Cooper and put her on leave, according to court documents. The next day the company announced it had fired Amy Cooper following its review and that it “does not tolerate racism of any kind.”

U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams addressed Cooper’s defamation claim by stating in the written opinion that “the Central Park incident coincided exactly with the date of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, an event which similarly sparked intense discourse nationwide on issues of racial justice and policing.”

“The contents of the viral video, as well as the dialogue surrounding it both in the media and on social media, were already matters of public knowledge when (Franklin Templeton’s) May 26 tweet was posted.”

Abrams added that the company’s statement is “protected as pure opinion,” rather than defamation, and dismissed the claim.

As for Amy Cooper’s argument that Franklin Templeton discriminated against her based on her race, Abrams wrote this “merits little attention” because the company’s public statements made no mention of her race.

Meanwhile, Cooper’s gender discrimination claim was based on her assertion that three male employees of Franklin Templeton were “treated more favorably than she was after engaging in purportedly similar conduct,” the opinion states.

Abrams wrote the court is in agreement with Franklin Templeton that the separate situations involving the three men were not similar enough to Amy Cooper’s situation involving the birdwatcher.

“Because (Amy Cooper) has failed to plead factual content giving rise to even a ‘minimal inference of discriminatory motivation,’” her “claims are dismissed,” Abrams wrote.

McClatchy News contacted attorneys representing Franklin Templeton for comment.

Months after the incident took place, Amy Cooper was charged with filing a false police report in regards to how she called 911 and said Christian Cooper was threatening her in Central Park, the Associated Press reported.

The charges were later dropped, USA Today reported.

She had previously made a public apology addressing Christian Cooper, stating “he had every right to request that I leash my dog in an area where it was required,” according to the Associated Press.

“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.”

As for Christian Cooper, he was given his own TV series on National Geographic called “Extraordinary Birder,” according to Today.

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