It was with great excitement that a private group, looking to raise $5 million to build bleachers, concessions buildings, video boards and the like at Liberty High School and Liberty North High School, announced last month that it had sold naming rights to activity complex features.
But one of those names — Gary Crossley Ford, along with its president, Todd Crossley — is embroiled in a racial discrimination lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, filed in July in Clay County Circuit Court, former car salesman Da’Shann Austin alleges that he was repeatedly referred to as “nigger” or “boy” and that other African-American employees also were subjected to racial slurs and jokes.
Austin, 38, worked for Gary Crossley Ford from 2011 to 2014, when he quit his job.
According to the lawsuit, most of the racial references were used not by Todd Crossley himself but by his employees.
The complaint, however, does cite one instance in which Austin was at a Lowe’s store with a friend, David Allen, a former Liberty High football player who also was a running back at Kansas State University and who played three seasons in the NFL. Austin claims that Todd Crossley approached Allen with the greeting, “What’s up, negro?”
Austin’s lawyer, Kevin Baldwin, said that although African-Americans make up a small proportion of the population in Clay County and Liberty, African-American students and families, as well as athletes from other districts, will come for sports events at the Liberty high schools.
“I think it’s important if they are going to name a stadium that is supposed to be for the public benefit, they (Todd Crossley and Crossley Ford) need to have their house in order,” Baldwin said. “They need to be willing to follow the law and make sure that what they have is not a racially hostile work environment.
“If they do have people who do feel it is appropriate to engage in those behaviors, it’s important for those people to get trained or come to the understanding that that is not tolerated in the workforce.”
Neither Todd Crossley nor his attorney, David Cascio, responded to a request for comment. In a court filing in response to the lawsuit, Gary Crossley Ford and Todd Crossley denied all allegations of racial discrimination.
Todd Crossley is a Liberty High School graduate. The Crossley family has long donated to and supported the Liberty district.
In December, the private Building Pride Campaign Committee, which is trying to raise about $5 million for new activities complexes at both Liberty High School and Liberty North High School, announced that it had sold the naming rights to various aspects of the projects.
The bleachers at Liberty High School are to be called the Gary Crossley Ford Stadium Seating. At Liberty North High School, the stadium is to be called Crossley Family Activities Complex.
The district paid for new turf at both schools, which was laid over the summer. But no other tax money is being used, a Liberty district spokesman said. Money donated to the Building Pride Campaign Committee is being administered through the Liberty School District Foundation as tax-deductible donations.
A district spokesman said the Crossleys donated about $500,000 for naming rights, but had no comment about the lawsuit.
“Liberty Public Schools has been made aware of the lawsuit and the allegations,” spokesman Dallas Ackerman wrote in an email. “Until the matter is resolved, LPS has no further comment at this time.”
The committee raised $2.5 million in its first 100 days, which ended in mid-December. The goal is for fundraising and construction to be simultaneous and for both activity complex projects to be finished for use in the fall of 2017 or soon thereafter.
Baldwin said his client, who has since moved out of the state, is seeking compensatory and other damages of an unspecified amount. The complaint alleges that Todd Crossley allowed an atmosphere to persist in which Austin, other African-American employees and customers were referred to using racial epithets.
“During his term of employment Plaintiff heard managers and white employees refer to black customers as ‘niggers,’ ‘thugs,’ and ‘black bitch,’ ” the complaint reads.
In another instance, after employees had been drinking, one white employee was told that he looked like “the slave master off of Django,” referring to the slavery movie “Django Unchained,” according to the lawsuit. The employee allegedly responded that he was a slave master and told Austin, “Get up here boy. You work for me. I own you.’ ”
Austin complained about the situation to no avail, his lawyer said.
“People will say, and it makes me crazy,” Baldwin said, “ ‘Well, I’ve heard black people refer to each other using the ‘n’ word before and, therefore, they can’t be offended.’ Yes, they can.
“And in this situation, it was not meant in a friendly or fun tone. And there was no permission given for the use of the word. It was used in a derogatory fashion meant to demean him and others.”
Requests for comment from the building pride committee were not returned. A court date has not been set.