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News coverage of case litigated by Partner Nina Pirrotti: CPI Security Systems and CEO Kenneth Gill Face Racial Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit Filed By Top Black Manager

Nov 18 2021

View the filed complaint here.

CHARLOTTE, NC, November 18, 2021.  A Gaston County, North Carolina resident filed a lawsuit against Charlotte-based CPI Security Systems, Inc. and CPI CEO Kenneth Gill on November 16, 2021.  The lawsuit alleges the plaintiff, Kelley Phelps, was terminated from her job at CPI in retaliation for objecting to CPI’s racist practices, including racist comments by CEO Kenneth Gill. At the time of her termination, Phelps was the highest-ranking Black manager at CPI and had been employed with the company for over 20 years.

CPI’s CEO was the focus of community protest in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, after Gill sent an e-mail that went viral in which he stated community members should “spend [their] time in a more productive way” and that a “better use of time” would be “to focus on the black-on-black crime.”  Following widespread media coverage of Gill’s statements, numerous corporate customers of CPI, including the Charlotte Hornets, Carolina Panthers, Bojangles, and the YMCA, dropped CPI as a vendor.  Many CPI employees staged a walkout and threatened to quit en masse.

According to the lawsuit, after Gill’s e-mail went viral, Gill was privately dismissive of the public outcry and stated: “This is just the next story. It’ll blow over.” Phelps, then CPI’s Customer Call Center Director, became so frustrated with the company’s inaction on racial issues that she gave notice of her intent to resign but was persuaded by CPI executives to stay.  The lawsuit alleges that CPI then asked Phelps to meet with former Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Chief of Police Kerr Putney, whom CPI had recently hired as its new Community and Government Relations consultant, to discuss CPI’s racial culture. Phelps alleges she discussed racist comments and actions at CPI, including statements by CEO Gill, and proposed remedial action. CPI terminated her shortly thereafter.

The lawsuit alleges other discriminatory practices by CPI, including discriminating against its own customers by running credit checks on those in neighborhoods with high Black populations, and discriminating against its Black employees by allowing customers to choose the race of CPI field technicians. Gill also reportedly stated at an executive meeting that a deeply-tanned white manager would “have to sit at the back of the bus” if he got any darker.

Phelps brings claims against CPI for race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.  In addition, Phelps asserts claims under North Carolina common law for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Phelps is represented in her lawsuit by Nina Pirrotti of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C., of New Haven, Connecticut, and the Law Office of Faith Herndon of Durham, North Carolina.

The complaint may be found under Docket No. 21 CVS 18485.  For additional information please contact Nina Pirrotti, Esq. at NPirrotti@garrisonlaw.com, (203) 777-4425.

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