A former security manager at the arena where the Atlanta Hawks play says white entertainers performing there were allowed to bypass security measures while similar requests by black entertainers were denied.
Alleging racial discrimination, Samuel R. Hayes III filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against Atlanta Hawks LLC, which operates the arena. The lawsuit says Hayes was fired because he's black and because he complained about security measures that he says were selectively enforced based on race.
The Hawks hired Hayes in August to work as manager of security operations at Philips Arena and for the team, the lawsuit says. He was fired April 28.
It became obvious to Hayes that race, not safety, was the deciding factor for which celebrities were allowed to bypass security measures, the lawsuit says.
Hawks Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nzinga Shaw said in an emailed statement that Hayes was fired for poor performance and that his claims are baseless.
"We will defend vigorously," the statement says.
According to the lawsuit, black entertainers whose requests to bypass metal detectors were denied include hip-hop artists Drake, Future, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Jeezy, The Dream and Migos, as well as comedians Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin, D.L. Hughley and Katt Williams.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit says, white performers, including comedian Amy Schumer and musical acts Axl Rose, Bon Jovi, Adele, Radiohead and Ariana Grande, were allowed to bypass metal detectors. Some were also allowed special parking and entrance privileges that were denied to black entertainers, the lawsuit says.
Black celebrities attending events at Philips Arena — including actor Tyler Perry and rapper Nelly — were also denied special entrance access or security protocol exemptions granted to white celebrities, the lawsuit says.
Hayes complained in October and again in April about what he saw as racially motivated discrepancies in security enforcement, the lawsuit says. When he asked why concessions were made for white performers but not black ones and why security was often heightened for black shows he was told "hip hop acts draw a different crowd, and the white acts bring in more money," the lawsuit says.
When Hayes was fired on April 28, he was told he had suspended a staffer for insubordination and fired another for sleeping on the job without first consulting with human resources, the lawsuit says. Hayes says he was never told he had to consult with human resources in those situations and had previously fired other subordinates without contacting human resources.
As a security manager, Hayes needed to be assertive and to decline certain requests, but he was instructed to adopt a subservient demeanor because he's a large black man and could be perceived as "aggressive," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages.