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Former Atlanta Hawks employee: I was discriminated against for being a white woman

An ex-employee of the Atlanta Hawks says she faced discrimination and retaliation from high-level employees who were black.
Credit: Micha? Chodyra
Photo: Thinkstock

A former Atlanta Hawks employee claims that being a white woman made her a target for discrimination by the organization - so much so that she was terminated when she brought her concerns to human resources.

Margo Kline has filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta-based basketball team demanding a jury trial after saying she was discriminated against by a then newly-hired supervisor who was black.

"In the summer of 2014, David Lee, a black male, was given a leadership position over the Hawks' External Affairs Department, which included Plaintiff's department of CSR and another department, Basketball Programs," the lawsuit read.

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She said Lee "promoted a culture of discrimination against white individuals" and also held against her the fact that she is a woman.

The lawsuit claims that Lee was "dismissive and exclusionary" toward white employees, made jokes about white culture, made it clear he "wanted to hire black individuals and did not want to hire white females," required more from white employees, promoted and hired "less qualified black individuals over white individuals" and passed over white employees for raises and promotions.

Kline said that when she went to the organization's leadership, she faced retaliation and more discrimination and ultimately fired.

Kline said that on Feb. 3, 2017, she went to lunch with Nzinga Shaw, Atlanta Hawks senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer. The lawsuit makes a point to state that Shaw is also black.

Kline's lawsuit states that she went through her concerns about inappropriate and discriminatory behavior. She also brought up a previous incident where Shaw showed both Kline and Lee a picture of a political campaign at a local historically black college and university (HBCU) 'Blacks for Trump.'

According to the lawsuit, Shaw allegedly said "look at this, they have a group called 'Blacks for Trump" to which Lee responded, "it was probably just a bunch of white people in blackface."

Kline said that Shaw laughed at the time but called Lee's comment "ignorant" adding that "that could be a lawsuit."

Kline then told Shaw that "the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, of which Plaintiff was a member, was hypocritical" before providing apparent examples.

It would be weeks later, on Feb. 21, 2017, that Kline said she met with a new human resources manager, Tabala Dixon, who the lawsuit also points out is black. Kline said she had never been counseled or disciplined regarding her performance. In this meeting, however, Kline's lawsuit states she was given a "final written warning" due to "ongoing deficiencies in her conduct and/or performance."

The warning described a "me vs. we" attitude and said that her complaints and concerns should have been presented as "ideas and solutions." That note went on to say she needed to improve "interpersonal skills and communication" by a certain, undefined date.

Kline said she then received more scrutiny from her higher-ups who gave credit for her own work to others while also refusing to recognize her accomplishments. She said gossip and negative comments also led others in the department to ridiculing her.

Kline said the new human resources person continued to avoid her and never sat down with her for clarification of how she could improve in these areas or better perform her job. Three weeks later, Kline said she was fired despite working to adhere to the information from her warning.

Kline had been employed with the department for nearly five years.

She is now seeking damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, costs, and interest from the Atlanta Hawks as well as front pay or reinstatement.

The Hawks have since responded to the claims of discrimination and retaliation with an official statement.

"We take all claims of discrimination seriously and have performed a thorough review of these baseless claims," it states. "The case was quickly dismissed at the EEOC level. We deny these claims and will vigorously defend against them."

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