A Transit Police dispatcher says he's owed big time for getting fired after watching a TV account of the arraignment of a woman charged with climbing onto the base of the Statue of Liberty in a political protest and telling coworkers she "should go back to Africa," - because he wasn't being racist, but merely expressing his political opinions and that if anybody's being racist, it's the T for forcing his firing because he's white.
Mark Hayes is suing both the MBTA and IXP Corp., which has a contract to run dispatch operations for Transit Police. In it, he alleges the T and the company discriminated against him because he's a white American and violated his First Amendment rights and his right to due process. He filed his suit in state court in Norfolk County last month, but the case was transferred to federal court this week at the request of the MBTA because it raises several federal issues.
Hayes alleges he was fired over an incident on Aug. 4, 2018, in which a TV in the Transit Police dispatch center on Southampton Street was tuned to a news broadcast with a segment about Therese Okoumou. Okoumou, born in the Congo, but then a resident of Staten Island, had been arraigned for a July 4 protest over Trump immigration policies in which she forced the closing of the Statue of Liberty by climbing up onto the statue's base and refusing to come down.
Hayes, who says he served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is a former police officer, says Okoumou's disrespect for America and for the police who risked their lives to get her down, on July 4th, no less, was more than he could bear and so he exclaimed, "If she hates America so much, she should go back to Africa."
A black co-worker - whom he alleges already had it in for him - immediately replied "That was a racist comment!" his suit alleges.
Hayes acknowledges he responded. According to his complaint, he told the co-worker he was simply a patriot expressing a political view about a wretch who should be grateful to the country that gave her refuge, that Okoumou was disrespecting members of the armed services and that Okoumou has the right to "peaceably assemble," but not break the law or ruin the Fourth of July for Statue of Liberty visitors. And, he continued to tell her, he is not a racist because "he has served among many persons of color, persons for whom he would give his life," and that his comment was political and not racist, "just like it would not have been racist if a white Canadian had climbed the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July and Plaintiff had said: 'If she hates America so much, she should return to Canada.' "
At that point, Hayes continues in his suit, a Transit Police lieutenant in the room told everyone to shut up.
But, the suit continues, the lieutenant then wrote up a complaint against Hayes for the incident, which went up the chain of command to Transit Police Supt. Richard Sullivan, who then ordered IXP to suspend Hayes pending a formal investigation. The suit says Hayes's supervisor at IXP at first agreed to suspend him with pay, but two days later, without a formal hearing, fired him.
Hayes says both Transit Police and IXP moved against him simply because he is white and that none of this would have happened were he black and born in an African country:
Upon information and belief, Plaintiff was terminated because he is not Black.
Upon information and belief, Plaintiff was terminated because he is White. ...
Upon information and belief, if Plaintiff's national origin was Africa, he would not have been terminated.
Upon information and belief, Plaintiff was terminated because his national origin is the United States.
Hayes is seeking back pay, the pay he would have received up to this point, plus "emotional damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, liquidated damages, statutory damages and penalties," as well as attorney's fees and interest.
Neither the MBTA nor IXP have yet to file a response to the complaint.
Ed. note: Africa is a continent, not a country. Sullivan is white.