Woman who falsely accused black birder loses lawsuit against ex-employer

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By Jonathan Stamp

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The white woman who falsely told police she was threatened by a black birder in New York City’s Central Park has lost a lawsuit accusing her former employer Franklin Templeton of illegally firing her and portray her as racist.

In a decision on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams rejected Amy Cooper’s claim that she was defamed when Franklin Templeton and his Chief Executive Jenny Johnson referred to the incident three times, saying they did not tolerate racism. A video of the incident went viral.

The Manhattan judge also said Cooper could not prove she was fired in May 2020 because of her race or gender, and without the kind of thorough investigation ever made into a male employee’s alleged abusive behavior.

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Cooper’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Franklin Templeton, part of San Mateo, California-based Franklin Resources Inc, said it “responded appropriately” to the incident and welcomed the dismissal.

Cooper joined Franklin Templeton in 2015 and was working as an insurance portfolio manager when a May 25, 2020 video showed she seemed agitated after confronting birdwatcher Christian Cooper, who is not related.

Amy Cooper was shown calling the police saying, “There’s an African-American man threatening my life” after Christian Cooper asked her to leash her dog to comply with park rules.

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The video was shot the same day a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, sparking nationwide protests over racial injustice. Franklin Templeton fired Amy Cooper the next day, and she was labeled “Central Park Karen” on social media, with a white woman pejorative titled.

Cooper argued that the defendants’ statements implied that Franklin Templeton had discovered details about her alleged racism that were not clear from the video, but the judge disagreed.

“The content of the viral video, as well as the dialogue surrounding it, both in the media and on social media, was already a matter of public knowledge,” making the defendants’ statements “unmanageable as pure opinion,” Abrams wrote.

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Prosecutors in Manhattan charged Cooper in July 2020 with filing a false police report, a felony. They dropped the charges seven months later after Cooper completed therapy that included instructions about not using racial bias.

The case is Cooper v Franklin Templeton et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-04692.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot)

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