Amy Cooper, the White woman who became known as “Central Park Karen” after calling 911 to claim that a Black birdwatcher had threatened her, lost a lawsuit alleging her former employer had engaged in racist and sexist behavior when it fired her after the incident.
U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams on Wednesday rejected Cooper’s claims that employer Franklin Templeton had unjustly fired and defamed her. The investment firm dismissed Cooper in May 2020, shortly after the widely publicized Central Park incident. The firm tweeted about her termination on May 26, 2020, saying “We do not tolerate racism of any kind.”
In May 2021, Cooper sued Franklin Templeton, alleging both racial and gender discrimination in her termination.
The judge rejected those claims in a 17-page ruling on Wednesday. In the lawsuit, Cooper had claimed that Franklin Templeton had treated her differently than three male employees who had engaged in misconduct ranging from insider trading to domestic violence. But Abrams ruled the cases weren’t similar enough to prove bias, partly given that Cooper herself described her own incident as “international news as a racial flashpoint.”
Cooper “cannot plausibly allege that she was subjected to a ‘company-wide double standard’ merely by identifying three male comparators who engaged in some — other — form of misconduct, but were not similarly fired,” Abrams wrote.
Cooper’s attorneys didn’t return requests for comment.
In her lawsuit, Cooper said she had been “an exceptional employee” at the company, where she worked from 2015 until her termination in 2020. The document said she had earned high performer bonuses in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Cooper stated that her firing had led to “substantial loss of earnings and benefits.” Her claim argued that Franklin Templeton should provide her with “back pay and bonus, loss of unvested funds and other benefits, front pay or reinstatements, emotional distress damages, attorneys’ fees and costs and interest and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.”
Didn’t meet the threshold for defamation
Abrams said Franklin Templeton’s statements about Cooper, such as its tweet that “we do not tolerate racism,” didn’t meet the threshold for defamation, partly because those comments didn’t imply they knew anything more than was already available to the public about the encounter.
“The incident received heightened media and public scrutiny, in particular, because it took place ‘in the midst of a national reckoning about systemic racism,'” the judge wrote, noting that Cooper’s incident occurred on the same day as George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.
She added, “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.”
In a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Franklin Templeton said, “We are pleased that the court has dismissed the lawsuit. We continue to believe the company responded appropriately.”
Phone call to 911
The incident was sparked by Cooper’s calling the police after a Black birdwatcher in Central Park, Christian Cooper (who has no relation to Amy Cooper), asked her to leash her dog in an area of the park where leashing is required.
In response, she called 911 and repeatedly identified Christian Cooper by his race, demanding that the dispatcher “send the cops immediately” and falsely accusing him of threatening her life. Christian Cooper recorded the verbal dispute on video, which went viral and became part of the national discussion about race during the Black Lives Matter movement sparked by Floyd’s murder.