PLEASANTON, Calif. (CN) — A gag gift that a black employee did not find funny has landed a Bay Area construction company owner in court, for giving her a photo of himself dressed as Donald Trump in front of a Confederate flag, inside a rhinestone purse also emblazoned with the Stars and Bars.
Tishay Wright sued Southland Construction Management and its supervisors and co-owners Kenneth and Anita Hayden on Thursday in Alameda County Court, on 12 causes of action, including racial discrimination and harassment, retaliation, assault and battery and wrongful firing.
Wright, a project administrator at the Pleasanton business, says that Kenneth Hayden retaliated for her objecting to his calling her a “bitch” by giving her a rhinestone purse at the company Christmas party, emblazoned with the Confederate flag.
Inside the purse, she says, were photographs of Kenneth Hayden dressed as Trump, and his wife as a Trump supporter, both posing in front of Confederate flags hung above Wright’s desk. The slogans “The Southland Shall Rise Again” and “Make Southland Great Again” were written on the flags in capital letters.
In one photograph, the gift purse hung from Anita Hayden’s shoulder.
Wright “returned home in tears after opening the gift, horrified, humiliated and deeply fearful that the owners of Southland would go to these lengths to silence and intimidate her after her multiple complaints to management,” she says in the complaint. Her “shock and horror over the purse and pictures depicting racist symbolism and a hostile potential violent message caused her to become increasingly nauseous and anxiety-ridden.”
Southland could not be reached for comment after business hours Thursday.
Wright, who began working for Southland in 2015, says the Haydens used racist language openly and regularly around their employees, with “we’ll just make the Mexicans do it” a common refrain. When the Haydens were unhappy with their work, they would say Mexicans are lazy and would work for beer, according to the complaint.
Wright says Kenneth Hayden told a Sikh intern to “go get your people before they blow something up.”
Wright says the Haydens gave her the purse as payback after she complained to management that Kenneth Hayden had called her and another female employee into his office and told them: “Ya’ll are my bitches and you’re going to take notes for the smaller projects coming up.”
When she objected to the language, she says, Kenneth Hayden told her: “This is the way I talk and if you don’t like it and can’t work with me then you don’t have to.”
The Haydens then reduced her job responsibilities, taking her off a large project and effectively demoting her to a receptionist, she says. They fired her in March, she says, after she told Anita Hayden it was unacceptable to give a black employee the gifts they had given her.
She seeks damages and punitive damages, for charges that include racial and gender harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She is represented by Christopher Dolan in San Francisco, who could not be reached for comment after hours Thursday.