Former Employee Sues Department of Defense Over Stuffed Ape in Noose

Mirlin Toomer, a Black woman, is seeking at least $300,000 in damages in the discrimination lawsuit.

Posted: 12/16/2011 07:07 PM EST
Mirlin Toomer, lawsuit, department of defense offices, noose, hanging, racism

(Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

A supervisor’s insensitive joke proved to be no laughing matter for a former Department of Defense employee.

 

In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, Mirlin Toomer alleges that her white supervisor hung a stuffed ape from noose, this happening after Toomer had complained to the same supervisor that another employee had harassed her.

 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is named as a defendant in the suit, but Toomer's lawyer said the list of named defendants could expand.

 

In the filing, Toomer, 45, said her troubles began when one of her colleagues 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 told her supervisor, Diane Stiger, about the incident, but no action was taken.

 

Toomer then made a formal discrimination complaint against the coworker but said again that nothing came of it. Instead, Toomer said that Stiger wrapped a piece of rope around the head of a stuffed ape and hung it near her office where Toomer could see it.

 

Toomer said Stiger refused to remove the ape, but then asked Toomer, "Do you think of yourself as a monkey?" according to the court filing. The inflammatory imagery stayed there for two weeks and was only taken down after Toomer and another Black worker pointed it out to security, the lawsuit states.

 

"I am urging your intervention," Toomer wrote in the lawsuit, to a department director, the Associated Press reports. "Perhaps you don't appreciate what it is like for a Black person to see an ape lynched/hung from a noose for a two-week period and your white peers laughing about it."

 

Toomer, who worked at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for six years but was fired in September, is seeking at least $300,000 in damages in the suit.

 

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