Former tennis pro Garrison files racial bias suit against USTA

(A follow-up commentary will be published tomorrow)

Former U.S. Fed Cup Captain Zina Garrison, who reached a career-high No. 4 world ranking in 1989, has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
In the 19-page lawsuit, filed Feb. 19, 2009 in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Garrison, whose contract as U.S. Fed Cup Captain ended November 2007, accuses the USTA of:
(1) refusing to pay her an equivalent salary to that of her white counterpart, Patrick McEnroe, captain of the U.S. Davis Cup and refusing to negotiate a multi-year contract equal to that provided to McEnroe.
(2) demanding upon pain of contract termination, that she meet unrealistic and higher performance benchmarks than those required of McEnroe or of her predecessor (Billie Jean King) and successor (Mary Joe Fernandez), who are not African Americans. (3) refusing to renew her contract as U.S. Fed Cup Captain and instead selecting Fernandez, a less qualified non-African American who had little to no coaching experience at the national level and paying Fernandez a higher salary, pursuant to a multi-year contract, than it provided to Garrison. According to the suit the USTA never gave Garrison more than a token raise and gave her only one-year contracts, while it provided McEnroe with significantly higher compensation and multi-year contracts. The suit says the disparity continued even though Garrison’s Fed Cup Team had a better record overall than McEnroe’s team through much of Garrison’s tenure as Fed Cup Captain.
(4) retaliating against her for opposing racially discriminatory employment practices, all in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The suit claims the USTA declined to renew Garrison’s contract within months after she objected to derogatory and racially stereotyped remarks made by Sara Fornaciari, then Chair of the U.S. Fed Cup, about Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Garrison and within weeks after Garrison objected to top USTA officials’ racially stereotyped remarks about the Williams sisters. The suit says Fornaciari routinely referred to Garrison as the “Black Ghost,” a name she unfairly used to impugn Garrison’s reliability. The suit also says that Fornaciari complained that Venus “had not yet returned her telephone call or committed to an event Foranciari was planning in Washington D.C.” According to the suit, Fornaciari said, “Who does Venus think she is to pass up $50,000?” And then said that Venus was “like you and just like Serena, none of you call people back.”

Responding to Garrison’s suit, the USTA released the following statement:
“The USTA takes all allegations of discrimination seriously and takes pride in its numerous diversity initiatives and achievements. The USTA elected not to renew Ms. Garrison’s Fed Cup Captaincy based on her performance and strongly denies any allegation of discrimination asserted by Ms. Garrison. During Ms Garrison’s five-year tenure as captain, the United States Fed Cup Team did not advance to the Fed Cup Final – its longest drought in the competition’s 45-year history.”
Fornaciari, who was Garrison’s agent for awhile early in her career, could not be reached for comment.
Garrison, who began playing tennis at 10, became the first African-American to win both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open Junior titles and the gold medal for the United States in women’s doubles (with Pam Shriver). She was a Wimbledon finalist in 1990 and a few years after retiring became the U.S. Fed Cup Team, serving under captain Billie Jean King for five years. According to the lawsuit, in order to ensure that the USTA would not pass over Garrison for the Captaincy, King made Garrison’s selection as U.S. Fed Cup Team Captain a condition of her own departure. King informed USTA officials that there were no other candidates as well-prepared to lead the U.S. Fed Cup Team. The USTA also selected Garrison to coach the Olympic Team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Garrison is seeking declaratory and monetary relief, including back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be proven at trial and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

Doug Smith, former USA Today tennis journalist (1986-2001), is the co-author of Garrison’s autobiography – Zina, My Life in Women’s Tennis. He also wrote Whirlwind, the Godfather of Black Tennis, which is a biography of the late Dr. R. Walter Johnson, who helped launched the careers of tennis great Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. Dr. Johnson will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 11.

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