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'Central Park Karen' Unironically Sues for Racial Discrimination

A dog in Central Park
By A.J. Firstman on May 31, 2023 | Last updated on June 05, 2023

A three-judge panel for the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expressed significant skepticism about the merits of a case they heard on May 19. The plaintiff, a woman named Amy Cooper, had filed a lawsuit claiming that her former employer had illegally fired her, defamed her character, and discriminated against her on the basis of her race and gender.

If the name Amy Cooper doesn't ring any bells, it may be because she's much better known by another name she earned for herself almost exactly three years ago: Central Park Karen.

Viral Videos Make Waves in 2020

Amy Cooper earned the pejorative nickname on May 25, 2020, after a video surfaced of her going on a discriminatory tirade after a man named Christian Cooper (no relation) asked her to leash her dog in a public park. The exact series of events leading up to the viral confrontation is uncertain, but at some point, Christian pulled out his phone and began taking a video.  The video that Christian captured shows Amy yelling at him, threatening to call the police, and then actually calling the police, claiming that "an African American man is recording me and threatening me." 

The ensuing conflict was upsetting and discriminatory enough to earn Ms. Cooper three things: a new nickname, a boot from her employer, and legal trouble. It probably didn't help that the video of her was taken the same day that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. That case, too, was captured on video that went viral, sparking nationwide protests of police brutality and racism.  In such a climate, the nation was quick to dub Cooper "Central Park Karen."

Her employer at the time, investment firm Franklin Templeton, got wind of the video soon after it went viral. She had been working for the company as an insurance portfolio manager since 2015. Franklin Templeton fired her just one day after the Central Park incident took place, saying in a Tweet that the company does not "tolerate racism of any kind."

Manhattan prosecutors subsequently charged Amy Cooper with filing a false police report in July of 2020. While they did ultimately drop the charge seven months later, it was only after she completed therapy that included lessons on racial sensitivity and avoiding racial bias. 

Rid of one legal battle, Cooper then took up another—this time, against her former employer. She filed suit against Franklin Templeton in May of 2021, claiming that she had been illegally terminated, defamed, and discriminated against on the basis of her race and gender. Apparently, she didn't see the irony—but the courts probably did. She lost the trial in September of 2022, when a federal district judge dismissed her suit.

But Cooper seems to really enjoy hanging around courts; her loss did little to deter her from appealing the case to federal circuit court. 

Second Circuit Skeptical of Cooper

On appeal, Cooper's main argument remains largely unchanged: that Franklin Templeton's statements after the viral video surfaced suggested that the company had "facts unknown to the public" to justify firing her and implicitly labeling her as a racist.

The judges at the Second Circuit were no more receptive to the arguments made by Cooper and her lawyer.

Circuit Judge Barrington Parker referred to the film as "an eye-popper." He then wondered about whether Franklin Templeton would want to be seen as supporting someone like Cooper by continuing her employment, saying "why would you want to keep her on your payroll?"

Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler just sort of gestured to the video and asked "what more would you have had [Franklin Templeton] do?"

Matthew Litt, Cooper's lawyer, was credited with this quote: "This was not about race until social media and the defendants made it about race." That one might not do his client any favors.

We'll see how the story develops from here, but it isn't looking good for the Central Park Karen.

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