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Stop Tennis Discrimination

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In September, tennis fans roared with delight as two African-American women – Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens – overcame long odds to face off in the finals at the 2017 U.S Open.  However, for the governing body of American tennis – the United States Tennis Association (USTA) – the racial equality played out on the courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center belied a persistent and continuing history of racial discrimination, sexism and unfair labor practices against its minority workers.


My name is Tony Nimmons, and I was an African-American umpire for the USTA. I was also hired by the USTA in the wake of a scathing New York State Attorney General investigation, as an Officiating Coordinator and investigator, to help clean up its legacy of illegal practices committed in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In part, in addition to my officiating duties, I was hired by the USTA to speak publicly to promote diversity and inclusion in tennis.  (https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/press-releases/archived/tennis.pdf  Instead of complying with promises to end discrimination against African Americans, Hispanics, women and other minorities, the USTA hired a white Big Tobacco lawyer as COO in an apparent attempt to maintain the status quo thereby directly undermining my stated role as an investigator and my diversity duties.  

 

On the court, I was considered one of the best umpires in the world.  Off the court, I was subjected to repeated cruel and demeaning racial discrimination and epithets.  I was called “black piece of shit" and “monkey” and told I “should go back to the ghetto.”  When I reported this to management, I was disciplined in retaliation for filing complaints. When I repeatedly requested an independent investigation into my claims, the USTA even hired a defense attorney, seemingly to discredit me.  


In June, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC) agreed with me and found that “Credible evidence confirms that Charging Party [Nimmons] was discriminated against on the basis of his race” and he was “repeatedly subjected to disparaging comments that were targeted specifically at him because of his race.”  Such confirmatory findings are exceedingly rare, being made in under 4% of all cases brought before the EEOC.  Sadly, based on my own investigation as an USTA employee, I am far from the only one who has suffered this fate at their hands. In over 20 years, many women and minority umpires, and even players, have filed discrimination complaints against the organization and many more suffer in silence, fearing the retaliation I experienced. One particularly gruesome incident occurred in 2012, when an African-American female USTA employee found a noose placed near her work area. While the hangman’s noose created a dangerous situation for African Americans, there is no evidence that the USTA even reported the incident to the police or the NYS Attorney General.  In fact, like other incidents of racial bias, the USTA management did not seem to take the incident seriously, even suggesting that the noose was a joke.  


Please sign my petition, comment and send emails to our members of Congress and other elected officials calling for them to demand copies of all complaints of discrimination or retaliation filed by minorities and women against the USTA, and demand an end to the discrimination at our public courts, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York.  


Mayor Bill de Blasio                                                           pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov                                                                                   (212) 788-2958


Attorney General Eric Schneiderman                               NYAG.Pressoffice@ag.ny.gov


Public Advocate Letitia James                                     newsunit@pubadvocate.nyc.gov


The USTA has a virtual monopoly on American tennis. I cannot get a job officiating in tennis anywhere else. I was even told by the attorney for the USTA that it will financially exhaust anyone who files a complaint of discrimination. Now that the EEOC has found discrimination and retaliation, and my manager is no longer with the association, I hope to be reinstated to my position with the USTA.  


This discrimination occurs as the USTA grosses hundreds of millions of dollars annually from hosting the U.S. Open in Queens. In fact, the Open is widely considered the most profitable and successful sporting event in the United States. While the USTA receives the substantial monetary benefits from using our venue in New York City, the organization has even gone so far as to outsource our jobs to foreign workers by flying in foreign umpires for the U.S. Open, replacing American-born employees.   

 

Billie Jean King, for whom the tennis center is named, was not only a great tennis champion, but also a legendary champion of civil rights.  With the imminent premier of a Hollywood film highlighting King’s civil rights leadership, the spotlight must again be focused on the institutional inequities perpetuated by the USTA which it refuses to bring into compliance with the law.  The time has come again for elected officials to work with the EEOC and review its investigation, denounce the persistent discrimination of the USTA and demand that tennis must be open to all, regardless of their race, gender or other protected status.  While other professional sports umpires have protections and are paid well, the USTA umpires are paid poverty wages and have no protection against job discrimination.  New York City public courts should not be home to bigots nor be made an unwitting accomplice to discrimination and unfair labor practices.    


If you know of or have witnessed discrimination or retaliation at the hands of the USTA anywhere in the United States, please contact us at stoptennisdiscrimination@gmail.com so that your voice can also be heard.   



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