Franklin Templeton did not discriminate against former portfolio manager Amy Cooper when it fired Cooper following her involvement in a confrontation with a birdwatcher that drew widespread media coverage, a federal judge held Wednesday (Cooper v. Franklin Templeton, No. 21-CV-4692 (S.D. N.Y. Sept. 21, 2022)).
On May 25, 2020, Cooper, a White woman then employed by Franklin Templeton, had been recorded while involved in a confrontation with a birdwatcher. The birdwatcher, a Black man, confronted the plaintiff and asked her to leash her dog. In response, Cooper placed a 911 call in which she told dispatchers about “an African-American man threatening my life.” A video of the encounter was later published to social media, where it went viral.
Later that same day, Franklin Templeton issued a statement on Twitter announcing that it had placed Cooper on administrative leave and had begun an investigation. On May 26, the company announced Cooper’s firing, adding that “[w]e do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.”
In her suit, Cooper alleged that Franklin Templeton fired her on account of her race and gender in violation of New York City and state law. Specifically, she alleged that the company “‘implicated the race of their employee with each of [their] communications to the public, by repeatedly connecting [their] stance against racism with their termination of [Cooper].’”
Cooper also claimed that Franklin Templeton’s decision showed evidence of disparate treatment, and she identified three male comparators whom she alleged were treated more favorably after engaging in similar conduct.
U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams held that Cooper failed to demonstrate that Franklin Templeton made any remarks, publicly or privately, that could be viewed as “directly reflecting discriminatory animus,” per the decision. Similarly, Abrams held that Cooper did not plausibly allege that she and her comparators were similarly situated in all material respects.
Additionally, the judge dismissed Cooper’s defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence claims against Franklin Templeton. Abrams granted the company’s motion to dismiss the suit.