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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Is It Art or Is It Discrimination?

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - An employee sued The Roosevelt Hotel, a Waldorf Astoria hotel and one of the most opulent in New Orleans, claiming its 73-year-old mural of slaves picking cotton and drinking booze holds her and other African-Americans "open to ridicule and shame."

Deandra Pittman claims the hotel blew off complaints that its mural, by nonparty Paul Ninas, "creates a hostile work environment and subjects her to feeling demeaned and looked down upon."

She sued First Class Hotels dba The Roosevelt New Orleans, and Waldorf Astoria Hotels, in Federal Court.

In her complaint, Pittman "contends that the Roosevelt Hotel has created a hostile work environment by allowing a mural to exist on the wall of the Sazerac Lounge which depicts African-American slaves picking cotton, consuming alcoholic beverages and acting in manners which hold African Americans open to ridicule and shame."

Pittman claims she has "on multiple occasions complained about the mural to management of the Roosevelt New Orleans and management has refused to remove the painting or otherwise take it from view of plaintiff and other African American employees of the hotel."

She claims that "the purpose of this painting is to reinforce negative stereotypes of African Americans such as plaintiff and open plaintiff to ridicule."

A plaque on the wall of the Sazerac Lounge states: "The four remarkable murals created in 1939 for the Sazerac Bar by internationally recognized artist Paul Ninas were created during a time of significant upheaval. Social change brought by the end of slavery during the 19th century continued to unfold, eventually challenging and improving American society in ways that reverberate today. In addition, the nation was still recovering from the Great Depression, so the Works Progress Administration recruited artisans of all types to build roads and parks and enhance the nation's infrastructure. It also helped launch the careers of artists who created public works of art that spoke of the American experience, and so we are privileged to display Mr. Ninas' fine and historic work here.

The plaque continues: "Though extremely diverse, the artistic style of the time, a style referred to as 'social realism' frequently focused on the period's economic hardships and on working class people performing their jobs. Their themes are reflected not only here in the private collections of the Roosevelt, but also in familiar and diverse public locations, including Allen Hall on the campus of Louisiana State University, the Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans, Rockefeller Center in New York, Coit Tower in San Francisco, labor halls in Detroit and elsewhere."

The plaque says the murals have hung in the Sazerac bar since their installation.

"Like much of art, the subject matter from the social realism movement can be considered out of touch with current mores and standards. The purposes and roles of art are many. At its core, however, a work of art is an expression of its subject in the context of its values, culture and events of its specific era," the plaque states.

Pittman seeks damages for humiliation, hostile work environment, and attorney's fees.

She is represented by Al M. Thompson Jr., with Thompson, Gibbons & Westholz.

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