The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that there was “reasonable cause to believe” that the country’s premier tennis organization discriminated against Tony Nimmons, a black chair umpire, “on account of his race and him engaging in a protected activity,” according to documents obtained by Deadspin. In his EEOC filings, Nimmons said he experienced repeated discrimination and, when he lodged complaints about it, was demoted. The determination is the latest in a series of discrimination complaints bought in recent years against the U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open as well as other programs.
The EEOC recommended in its June determination letter “conference, conciliation, and persuasion” in order to “eliminate the alleged unlawful employment practices.”
Nimmons is a certified silver-badge umpire and has worked at major tournaments around the world, including all four grand slams, with the USTA’s own website calling him is “one of the best in the sport.” He filed two charges of discrimination with the EEOC, one in January 2015 and another in November 2015. The EEOC filings allege that the USTA discriminated against him on the basis of race and then retaliated against him by demoting him after he lodged complaints. The second one, from November, lists dozens of other women and minorities employed by the USTA who have, it says, filed discrimination complaints to the EEOC or internally with USTA. (The lines were already in the documents as provided to Deadspin.)
According to Nimmons’s first EEOC filing, he was hired as a full-time employee in 2009 to promote diversity at the USTA—three years after the New York Attorney General’s Office concluded that the organization had failed to adhere to state labor laws as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The attorney general’s investigation found that there were “glaring gender disparities” between female and male chair umpires that “cannot be explained by differences in the qualifications of female and male chair umpires,” according to the 2006 assurance of discontinuance. The investigation also found, per the assurance, that “few minority umpires have been selected to chair matches at the U.S. Open, especially the more prestigious later-round matches.”
Nimmons was hired with the title “coordinator of officials,” according to his initial EEOC filing, and he was supposed to “promote diversity and inculsion.” Nimmons told me in an interview that that also meant soothing employees who felt marginalized.
“On a number of occasions, I was tasked with calling people who had complaints about the officiating department or about one of our people in leadership to talk with them and see if there was anything I could do,” Nimmons told me. “They may have known what my position was, and the feeling was in the office that they just needed to vent on most occasions. And if we could just give them an ear, talk them off the ledge, that would help them. And on a number of occasions, making those calls and going to visit those people did help certain situations.”
Nimmons said in the initial charge of discrimination that he repeatedly filed complaints with his superiors at USTA and requested investigations into possible acts of discrimination, including when a black woman who worked for the USTA found a noose near her work area.
The USTA said that the noose “was not related to race but was a poor [sic] conceived joke relating to difficult vendors,” according to the determination letter. In the November filing, Nimmons gave other examples of “hurtful comments.”
After filing his discrimination complaints internally and with the EEOC, Nimmons, who is represented by attorney Gary Ireland, said in the amended filing that he was banned from traveling, compromising his ability “to speak about diversity in tennis,” as well as excluded from office meetings.
Nimmons told me that he was relieved of his duties last summer, after years of filing complaints internally and with the EEOC.
I reached out to six former and current chair umpires about the their work at USTA, including former top chair umpire Cecil Hollins, who—after he was stripped of his gold, silver, bronze, and white umpire badges for asking why he and other top-ranked women and minority chair umpires were not given the chance to umpire finals at the U.S. Open—sued the USTA in 2005. None of the people I reached out to responded to my calls. Nimmons said he wasn’t surprised by that.
“Simply put, they’re afraid that the USTA are going to retaliate. For all of the statements [USTA] makes about not retaliating and no discrimination, what you have here is a situation where the EEOC and the New York Attorney General have found that against them. ... The people who have complaints have seen what is happening to me, they’re a little afraid,” Nimmons said. “[USTA] is a Goliath and they can’t be defeated, USTA is invincible—this is a perception that’s out there.”
Nimmons, who now works as a nuclear officer at Indian Point Energy Center in New York and volunteers as as emergency medical technician, said he’s more disappointed than angry about his situation with the USTA. He said he would “consider helping the USTA fix this problem in a heartbeat,” despite his dealings with the organization.
“I gave 20-plus years of my life to officiating and trying to make it a better place for everyone to work,” he said. “If they are not interested in me helping them, I hope they’ll get someone that will help because this is a problem that has been going on forever.”
When asked the EEOC’s findings, USTA spokesperson Chris Widmaier issued the following statement:
The USTA does not permit discrimination or retaliation in its workplace on any basis, and investigates and takes prompt and appropriate action when such complaints are made. Although the USTA does not comment on pending claims, we can state that the matters raised by Mr. Nimmons were fully investigated, both internally and by an independent third party, and found to be specious. The USTA therefore is vigorously defending against these claims.
Nimmons’s two EEOC charges of discrimination and the full EEOC determination are below.