A black former US Department of Defense worker has filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging her complaints about workplace harassment prompted one of her supervisors to hang a stuffed ape from a noose across from her desk.
Mirlin Toomer, who worked at the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for six years, is seeking at least US$300,000 in damages in the suit filed on Wednesday in the US District Court in Washington.
A noose displayed before a black American is considered extremely offensive because the rope was used to lynch more than 3,000 black people during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Toomer, 45, was fired in September. Before that, her lawsuit states, she had compiled a record of commendations and awards over more than 20 years with the government, including six given last year.
In the lawsuit, Toomer traced her troubles to her complaints about colleague Mathew Estevez, who she said had stood behind her with a pair of scissors, threatened to cut her wig and said he wondered whether the hair would grow back. Toomer said she complained to her supervisor, Diane Stiger, who did nothing.
Toomer followed with a formal discrimination complaint, but said in her suit no action was taken. Instead, the lawsuit states, Stiger bound the stuffed ape in rope and hung it near her office where Toomer could see it. The stuffed animal hung there for two weeks and was taken down only after Toomer and another black worker pointed it out to security officers.
The lawsuit states that Toomer asked Stiger to remove the “monkey,” but Stiger refused, saying the animal was an ape, not a monkey.
She then said to Toomer: “Do you think of yourself as a monkey?” Toomer says in the lawsuit.