Two former employees of the New York State Athletic Commission have brought forward a class action lawsuit against the governmental body that oversees combat sports on charges of racial discrimination and multiple wage and hour law violations, BoxingScene.com has learned.
In a 28-page lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York on March 5, plaintiffs Dorothea Perry and Jean Seme allege that the NYSAC denied them minimum wage ($15 per hour in 2018) and withheld payment for their work as at-will inspectors, including spread of hours pay and overtime wages.
Also named in the complaint are the executive director of the NYSAC, Kim Sumbler, and former executive director Anthony Giardina. (Giardina now serves as commissioner of the New York state Tax Appeals Tribunal.) Plaintiffs Perry and Seme, who are both Black, allege that Sumbler and Giardina created a “racially hostile” working environment. They also allege that Sumbler and Giardina “willfully” obstructed them from securing certain job promotions and terminated them on “false pretenses” having to do with their race.
The defendants allege that on the occasions that they were paid, they were typically forced to wait at least one to two months for their paycheck. According to the suit, the defendants are “manual employees” – a broad category that applies to mechanics and mailroom workers – meaning that under New York state labor laws they should have been paid on a weekly basis.
Furthermore, the defendants allege that they were prevented from taking any meal or restroom breaks while they were on the clock. Combat sporting events – boxing, MMA, wrestling, et al. – typically begin at 3 PM and end as late as 2:30 AM the next day, according to the suit. NYSAC inspectors are responsible for keeping watch over combat sports participants at all times during live cards, escorting them throughout the duration of the event, including ensuring that they are examined by an NYSAC doctor after their fight.
Perry, who worked as an NYSAC inspector for 14 years, from 2004 to April 2018, claims she lost her job after Sumbler accused her of violating a safety protocol that Sumbler had “arbitrarily changed right before” an event “without any prior notice whatsoever.” The event in question was the Adrien Broner-Jessie Vargas welterweight bout in April 2018 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which also featured Gervonta Davis and Jermall Charlo on the undercard. In an effort to clamp down on reported gang activity at the event stemming from a social media spat between Broner and rapper Tekashi69, Sumbler, per the lawsuit, barred any additional guests from entering the locker rooms of the boxers. But when she discovered that there were three unidentified people in the locker room of Davis, the fighter to whom Perry was assigned, Sumbler “showed her racial animus and bigotry toward black Americans, according to the suit, which cites an internal office memo that Sumbler wrote and, in part, reads:
“I saw three large men…in addition to Gervonta Davis’s (sic) camp, and guests…I asked them to leave…There were a few tense moments where they stared me down then eventually left without incident…they didn’t belong…we were on heightened security alert because of the threats that were made…this breach of locker room access placed both [NYSAC deputy commissioner] Ed Kunkle and me in a very dangerous situation…Had Dorothea notified Security immediately…we would not have been put in harm’s way.”
Despite Sumbler’s claim, the suit alleges that none of the boxers – Broner, Davis, and Charlo – had any “gang affiliations,” and that Perry, or any of the other inspectors, were ever charged with security duties.
The godmother of former middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs, Perry claims she was terminated on unlawful retaliatory grounds after she filed a complaint with the inspector general of New York regarding the “gender and race based discrimination” against her by Sumbler and Giardina. More recently, according to a document obtained by BoxingScene.com, a complaint that Perry lodged with the New York State Division of Human Rights came back with a probable cause for discrimination verdict and recommendation for a public hearing.
Perry has a long – and questionable – history of filing internal complaints with the NYSAC. Over the years, she has registered multiple discrimination, criminal conduct, and workplace violence complaints against the NYSAC, including former Executive Director David Berlin, none of which, according to reporting by Thomas Hauser, resulted in any finding of wrongdoing. In addition, Perry had been on the receiving end of numerous complaints regarding her performance as an inspector: she was found multiples times leaving fighters unattended and misusing her badge to gain access to the locker rooms of fighters to whom she was not assigned, according to Hauser. Outside of boxing, Perry has also filed at least two lawsuits against her previous private-sector employers, one of which was dismissed by a judge.
The suit further alleges that Seme, who started with the NYSAC in 2015, was let go in March 2017 on the “false pretext” that he had made a threat to Sumbler about blowing up a building. According to the suit, “Sumbler’s lie” led her to “weaponize” two state troopers who showed up several times at Seme’s home with “threats of police action and bodily harm.” Seme described being “shocked, intimidated, and terrorized with the prospect of arrest […] based on patently false allegations.”
However, like Perry, Seme also has a patchy record with the NYSAC. According to Hauser’s reporting, Seme once failed to escort a fighter scheduled to appear on a card at Madison Square Garden, in 2017, to his mandatory pre-fight physical examination, a potentially life-jeopardizing oversight, given that a fighter could have been dealing with medical symptoms that would have been exacerbated by receiving blows to the head. When Seme was asked by a deputy commissioner if the fighter had received his pre-fight medical examination, he “misstated the facts and told him ‘yes.’” When it was discovered later that night that Seme had not told the truth, he was promptly terminated. After the conclusion of the card, however, Seme was found waiting outside the arena in order to accost the commissioners. It was in this instance that Sumbler reportedly heard Seme shout into his cell phone, “These motherf****** can’t do that. I’ll kill them all,” which triggered the visits from the state troopers.
Citing emotional anguish and physical decline, the plaintiffs are seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.