A gay food server at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn says he was subjected to homophobic slurs by Houston Rockets players last year when they played the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Daily News reported Tuesday. Once he complained about the abuse he was indirectly punished and ultimately let go without pay, he says.
Rasean Tate, 28, of Brooklyn said in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that he was setting up a buffet for the players in their locker room at the Barclays Center in February 2013 when the incident took place. He said the NBA players pelted him with offensive taunts when his back was turned.
The athletes, who were not individually identified by the newspaper, reportedly said things like “Get this f----- out of here!" and "He's trying to catch a sneaky peaky!" followed by laughter.
But it didn’t stop there. “These series of comments were repeated a number of times by defendant Rockets players and staff,” the suit claims, according to the New York Post. “Plaintiff could hear defendant Rockets players overlapping voices and laughter.”
At the time Tate was working for the Levy Restaurant catering department. The food service was providing refreshments for the visiting team, referees and the Nets’ dancers’ locker rooms. A representative of the Brooklyn Nets reportedly told Tate to “just leave” the locker room after the Feb. 22, 2013, incident and said he would “take care of it.”
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Tate says he reported the incident to Levy’s catering manager Darcy Tarpia two days later and got an apology from the Brooklyn Nets’ president of human resources. But he was then banned from working in locker rooms, dressing rooms and private VIP areas.
“This was solely in retaliation for his complaints about the harassment and discrimination he faced by defendant Rockets players and because of plaintiff’s sexual orientation,” the suit claims.
To be barred from such jobs was essentially a punishment because of the overtime pay they generate. In the suit, Tate says he believes he was banned because of his sexual orientation, a form of discrimination which is illegal under both city and state law in New York.
Since Tate’s income was severely affected by being excluded from working in locker rooms like everyone else he emailed Levy and reportedly said he was “able, capable and comfortable to perform any duty and task as a catering server in all locations of the arena, including locker rooms and dressing rooms, in spite of the incident that occurred earlier in the year.”
But it apparently didn’t help. Tate said he was forbidden from working events like the VIP area of the Video Music Awards in August 2013.
Tate was eventually let go from the company without pay, and court papers alleged he has not been able to find work. “But for plaintiff’s sexual orientation and his complaints about harassment and discrimination based on his sexual orientation, defendants would not have retaliated against him and would not have treated him differently,” the suit states.
The Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center are not being sued, but the suit is seeking unspecified monetary damages from Levy Restaurant Holdings and Houston Rockets, the Daily News said.
No openly gay players had ever competed in a major American male sports league until the Nets signed veteran Jason Collins in February of this year.
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