Lawsuit over school's 'Indians' mascot costs Delaware attorney his job
A dispute over a Pennsylvania high school's mascot spilled into Delaware's corporate law community, resulting in one attorney being forced to resign from his Wilmington firm.
That attorney, Scott D. Cousins, has now filed a lawsuit in Sussex County Superior Court against another Delaware lawyer claiming he is a victim of "cancel culture" – a form of ostracizing a person or organization for something they have said or done.
In his lawsuit, Cousins said Wilmington attorney Rosemary S. Goodier sent an email to his former employer, Wilmington's Bayard Firm, claiming Cousins was "protecting his white, Christian heritage" because of a lawsuit he filed in Pennsylvania in the summer trying to save Unionville High School's Indian mascot.
"The tactics by the adherents of cancel culture (particularly in a social media mob) are to shut down debate and, in this and many instances, to destroy the livelihood of the speaker, as occurred here when [Cousins] was forced to resign his employment by his employer," attorney Thomas S. Neuberger wrote in the lawsuit obtained by Delaware Online/The News Journal.
Both Cousins and Goodier practice law in Delaware, but are Pennsylvania residents. Neither Goodier nor anyone at Bayard returned messages on Monday seeking comment for this story.
Earlier this year, episodes of "Live PD" and "Cops" were pulled from the air after George Floyd's death sparked questions surrounding misleading police storylines, according to USA Today. Last year, comedian Shane Gillis was fired from "Saturday Night Live" after people unearthed old racist comments and anti-gay slurs.
Opponents say these responses stifle free speech.
"Society is still grappling with what's considered 'too far' on the internet," Anne Charity Hudley, chairwoman of the linguistics of African America at the University of California, told USA Today. "Something that can be used for good can also be weaponized. Everything can go too far; even free speech can go too far."
It’s easy for the cancel culture movement to get pulled into a game of false equivalence, with some calling for justice while others worry about expressing themselves, said Apryl Alexander, professor of psychology at the University of Denver.
"Yes, there is freedom of speech and people should be allowed to voice their opinions," Alexander said in an interview with USA Today. "But when they use that voice and it's causing harm, we do need to address the harm."
According to Cousins' lawsuit filed Monday, as the "canceled" person he is the one who has been harmed. Now he's asking the Delaware court for relief in punitive and other damages the court deems just and proper.
On Aug. 5, Cousins filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania against Unionville High School seeking an injunction to prevent a vote by the school's board on the fate of the Unionville Indians mascot. The lawsuit was filed by Cousins and not on behalf of the Bayard Firm.
Within an hour of its filing, Goodier sent an email to Bayard's general email inbox "in which she falsely attacked and smeared Cousins as a "white, Christian 'racist' and religious bigot, and someone whose conduct constituted racial and religious bigotry," the suit claimed.
This is Goodier's two paragraph Aug. 5 email to Bayard:
"In all likelihood, your Management Committee approved this suit, but in the event that it did not, we would like to bring it to your attention. We hope you can reflect upon how shockingly racist and tone deaf this suit is, particularly in light of the present demands against the school board, who has to deal with getting students back to school safely in the midst of a deadly pandemic. We can't help but wonder why the firm would support an action that would divert precious resources away from the safety of the community's children to perpetuating an offensive and outdated school mascot. The action is even more troubling in light of the fact that Mr. Cousins' child graduated and no longer attends the school. Our tax dollars and administrative resources will be plunged into countering some shocking racist statement by Mr. Cousins about protecting his white, Christian heritage.
We have no official role, connection, or representation with respect to the school board or the district. We raise these issues solely in our capacity as concerned parents and taxpayers; as such, we are reaching out to you in the hope your firm is better than throwing its support behind this horrific lawsuit."
The email was sent on behalf of Goodier and unknown "members of our community" and had the subject line: "Recent Filed Lawsuit Against Unionville Chadds Ford School District Reflects poorly on The Bayard Firm."
According to Cousins' suit, her email contained at least three false, unprivileged and defamatory statements accusing Cousins of engaging in multiple types of racist and religiously bigoted conduct.
"In short, the false, unprivileged and defamatory gist of the August 5 email was designed to convey to Plaintiff's employer and colleagues that this key member of Bayard was a racist and a religious bigot," according to the 34-page lawsuit.
Had Goodier read what Cousins had filed, the lawsuit said, she would have seen that Cousins agreed that "no person or nation of people should be a mascot."
The district, years prior, had phased out the stereotypical iconography and the tomahawk chop cheer. Cousins, who said he welcomed those changes, favored keeping the "U" with a single feather with the "Indian" name.
Cousins suggested an alternative was to develop a partnership with the Leni Lenape Tribe related to the Unionville High School mascot. "For example, Florida State University partnered with local tribes who approved the school's continued use of 'Seminoles' name."
"Anyone who suggests that Native People have never been victimized has not seriously studied American history," the lawsuit attributed Cousins writing in his August lawsuit. "We need to study history – not cancel it, revise it or eradicate it – in order to ensure that the victimization of Native People never happens again."
At the time of Goodier's email, Cousins was a director of Bayard and the chair of the firm's business restructuring and liquidations group.
The lawsuit also said Goodier took to social media attacking Cousins to the point where an administrator for the Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, Community Facebook page removed her posts and those of others siding with her.
This was presumably done because her comments violated the group's guidelines, the lawsuit said.
The day after Goodier emailed Bayard, the lawsuit said Cousins was contacted by the firm's president and told to resign.
The lawsuit does not name the firm's president, but said the president then repeated language from Goodier's email claiming his Pennsylvania lawsuit "reflects poorly on the firm."
[Story continues below lawsuit document.]
When Cousins said the firm could not prove it lost business in the last 24 hours because he had expressed his personal First Amendment viewpoints, the lawsuit claims the firm's president said Bayard's "attorneys have been receiving emails and phone calls from 'attorneys in town,' as well as reviewing many of the posts on social media that were directed at Bayard. He then added, 'Personally, don't see how we keep you on.'"
The firm's president said they would be issuing a press release to reduce damage to the firm, which the lawsuit said Cousins demanded not happen because that would destroy any chance of him finding another firm in town to join.
Cousins asked for an opportunity to present his case to the firm's stockholders "as to how expressing his viewpoints in a private litigation is something that should be respected, not condemned, as the firm did recently in supporting an associate's First Amendment right to protest in Washington D.C."
When the firm told Cousins it was not changing its mind, Cousins resigned from Bayard on Aug. 7.
Cousins has since sought employment at several law firms, each time having to explain his reasons for abruptly leaving Bayard. Unable to find another employer, the lawsuit said, Cousins started his own firm in October.
Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @eparra3.