Amy Cooper, the white woman who falsely told police that a Black birdwatcher was threatening her life, is now suing the employer that fired her over the incident, claiming she was a victim of racial discrimination.
Cooper faced sweeping backlash last year over a video of her confrontation with Christian Cooper, who is not related to her. The video, which was shot by Christian Cooper, shows him calmly asking Amy to leash her dog in the park. Amy responds by threatening to tell the police that “there is an African-American man threatening my life.” She then follows through and makes the frantic report.
“There’s a man, African American, he has an iPod, he is recording me and threatening me and my dog!” she claims in the video.
The video went viral and Cooper was widely denounced as racist at the time, with many dubbing her the Central Park “Karen” — a slang term for privileged white women who raise trivial issues with the authorities.
Her employer, Franklin Templeton, fired her from her job as a portfolio manager that same day. “We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton,” the company said at the time.
Cooper filed a criminal complaint against Franklin Templeton in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, claiming that her employer fired her without investigating the incident. She also claimed that Franklin Templeton falsely portrayed her as racist, and that Christian Cooper was an “overzealous birdwatcher” who had selected her as a “target.”
“She did these things because she was alone in the park and frightened to death,” the lawsuit claims.
She is seeking unspecified damages for race and gender discrimination, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.
Franklin Templeton stood by its decision to fire Cooper in a statement to the New York Times.
“We believe the circumstances of the situation speak for themselves and that the company responded appropriately,” a spokesperson for the investment firm said. “We will defend against these baseless claims.”
The viral encounter happened on May 25, 2020, the same day that police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes in Minneapolis, Minn.
Amy Cooper lost her job and surrendered her dog amid the backlash over her behaviour in the park. She later apologized in a statement.
“I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions when, in fact, I was the one who was acting inappropriately by not having my dog on a leash,” she said in her apology.
Amy Cooper initially faced charges for making a false police report, but Christian Cooper accepted her apology and opted not to participate in the investigation. Manhattan prosecutors ultimately dropped their case against her after she completed a series of counselling sessions about racial justice.
“I think it’s a first step,” Christian Cooper said after she issued her original apology. “I think she’s gotta do some reflection on what happened because up until the moment when she made that statement … it was just a conflict between a birder and a dog walker, and then she took it to a very dark place. I think she’s gotta sort of examine why and how that happened.”
Christian Cooper, who is a biomedical editor and former Marvel Comics writer, also encouraged people not to judge Amy based on a few seconds of racism and “very poor judgement.”
“Only she can tell us if that defines her entire life by what she does going forward,” he said.
Christian Cooper declined to comment on Amy’s lawsuit, which was filed one year to the day after their encounter went viral.
— With files from Reuters