A lawsuit filed in federal court has accused a philanthropist of asking an African-American chef to cook "black people food."
Madeleine Pickens, the former wife of energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens, hired Armand Appling in 2014 to work at her exclusive dude ranch in Nevada, the Associated Press reported.
She allegedly told him that her ideal menu was fried chicken, barbecue ribs and corn bread.
“I don’t want you to cook white people food, I want you to cook black people food,” Pickens allegedly said, according to the suit seen by the New York Post.
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In addition, Pickens complained about Appling’s use of salt. “I know that’s hard for you since it’s in your genetics to eat salty food,” Pickens allegedly told Appling.
The suit further alleged that Pickens referred to another African-American kitchen staffer as “Ox” or “Bull” because of the manual labor he undertook.
“The suggestion that such categorizations are inherently offensive is nonsense,” Pickens’ attorney Dora Lane stated in court documents, according to AP. “This is especially true here, given that Pickens' alleged comments actually reflect a preference for 'black people food' rather than a racial animus against 'black people' or 'black people food’.”
District Judge Miranda Du agreed, rejecting the claims of discrimination by Appling’s attorneys on the basis that the presence of racial hostility had not been demonstrated.
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“It takes a lot to prove these allegations,” she said.
Du gave Appling’s attorneys until Jan. 13 to refile their complaint.
The suit also alleged that a third black employee was fired by Pickens because she had “too much personality.”
“In many cases, the people fighting to keep African-Americans out of these private clubs would use code phrases like 'they do not fit the image’,” Appling’s attorney Willie Williams stated. The use of the words “ox” and “bull” implies ownership of property, given "America's long history of slavery where they were considered personal property of their owners,” he added.
Lane dismissed Williams’ argument.
“Indeed, Appling does not allege that he ever heard any overtly racial epithets, such as the 'N-word’,” she said.
Du sided with Williams on this point, noting that Lane’s interpretation of Pickens’ use of terms like “bull” and “ox” failed to take account of the context in which they were made.
Appling is claiming damages from Pickens’ nonprofit, Save America’s Mustangs. He alleges he was fired after complaining about a hostile work environment.