Woman who falsely accused Black bird-watcher loses lawsuit against ex-employer

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The white woman who falsely told police she was threatened by a Black bird-watcher in New York City's Central Park has lost a lawsuit accusing her former employer Franklin Templeton of illegally firing her and portraying her as racist.

In a decision on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams rejected Amy Cooper's claim that she was defamed when Franklin Templeton and its Chief Executive Jenny Johnson referred on three occasions to the incident and said they did not tolerate racism. A video of the incident went viral.

The Manhattan judge also said Cooper failed to prove she was fired in May 2020 because of her race or gender, and without the kind of thorough investigation once done into a male employee's alleged offensive conduct.

Lawyers for Cooper did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Franklin Templeton, part of San Mateo, California-based Franklin Resources Inc, said it "responded appropriately" to the incident and was pleased with the dismissal.

Cooper joined Franklin Templeton in 2015, and was working as an insurance portfolio manager when a May 25, 2020 video showed her appearing agitated after confronting the bird-watcher Christian Cooper, who is not related.

Amy Cooper was shown calling the police and saying "there's an African-American man threatening my life" after Christian Cooper asked her to leash her dog to comply with park rules.

The video was taken the same day a Minneapolis policeman killed George Floyd, sparking nationwide protests about racial injustice. Franklin Templeton fired Amy Cooper the next day, and she was branded on social media as "Central Park Karen," incorporating a pejorative for an entitled white woman.

Cooper argued that the defendants' statements implied that Franklin Templeton had uncovered details about her alleged racism not evident from the video, but the judge disagreed.

"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," making the defendants' statements "inactionable as pure opinion," Abrams wrote.

Manhattan prosecutors charged Cooper in July 2020 with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. They dropped the charge seven months later after Cooper completed therapy that included instruction on not using racial bias.

The case is Cooper v Franklin Templeton et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-04692.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)