Joseph Atherall, MSA Security Exec, Told Black Worker Hairstyle Was 'Ghetto,' Lawsuit Charges

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A top executive at a security firm that has made millions from the City of New York and numerous other corporate and government clients  — even training troops in the United Arab Emirates — warned an African-American employee not to wear her hair in braids because they look “ghetto,” according to lawsuit against the company.

The suit filed in Manhattan's U.S. District Court charges that an African American worker in the security company, one of a small number, endured a long series of racial taunts and harassment. When the company’s chief executive and another employee — both former members of the New York Police Department — tried to investigate the allegations, one was fired and one was forced into quitting, the lawsuit claims.

But the chairman of Michael Stapleton Associates, the security company known for its bomb-sniffing dogs that patrol many of New York’s important locales, calls the suit’s allegations “inaccurate and baseless.”

George Harvey said that Katherine Lemire, the company’s former president of investigations and also a former federal prosecutor and later, adviser to New York’s Police Chief Raymond Kelly, was not “subjected to any retaliation” for her attempts to investigate the alleged racial abuse.

Lemire says that she was left no choice but to resign under pressure from the company, while its chief executive, Patrick Timlin who also looked into the charges and reccommended that Harvey step down, was fired outright.

Their investigation was sparked when a company VP, Joseph Atherall (pictured), allegedly made a derogatory comment about the braided hairstyle worn by many African American women, to human resources employee Chanissa Green.

Green was simply reading a magazine depicting women with the braided hair when Atherall looked over her shoulder and according to the lawsuit, remarked, “When someone like me … sees someone with a style like that, we think ghetto — not professional.”

Atherall followed up his comment by telling Green, “I'll tell you what's beautiful: my daughter, with blond hair and blue eyes,” according to the lawsuit.

Green, who still works at the company, told Timlin and Lemire that she was subject to a long history of similarly racist comments over the years. At one point she was told, “You know what the deal is, Rosa Parks, you go to the back of the line.”

Another employee told her, “My grandfather owned your grandfather,” and when she walked into a room on one occasion, an employee remarked “we’re in the ‘hood now.”

She was also subject to repeated derogatory and racially-tinged comments about her hair, her family and her job, the suit charges.

Lemire’s suit asks for reforms within MSA to prevent such abuse, as well as back pay and monetary damages.

SOURCES: New York Times, New York Daily News, MSA Security