DETROIT – A man is suing the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, claiming he was fired because he's white.
The lawsuit is creating a buzz at the courthouse, as a longtime attorney and fighter for civil and minority rights will take the role of lead counsel, representing Ted Canaday in the racial discrimination case.
Canaday claims he was the only white executive working at the museum. The lawsuit alleges he was fired because of his race.
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is a jewel of the Motor City, and Canaday was a senior vice president.
"It's heartbreaking," Canaday said. "It's absolutely, unexplainably heartbreaking in this instance. I thought I would have a long tenure at the museum, beyond the 8 1/2 years I was there. I did everything I could; took on any role asked of me."
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Wayne County, Canaday was officially fired as part of a reorganization. Company officials said they wanted to redeploy resources under new acting CEO George Hamilton.
Canaday said he loved his job.
"Wonderful, rewarding work," Canaday said. "It was hard work. It reminds me of the Army slogan. Toughest job you'll ever love at times. But I loved it and miss it."
Canaday said he wanted to stay at the museum, so he applied for a lesser job in marketing that he held years before, but he was denied.
"Not only was I rejected and terminated, but I was excommunicated," Canaday said. "I was not only an employee, but I've been a member of the museum for years. I'm a donor. I paid for my kids' school to come to the museum."
"That's offensive," Canaday's attorney, Carl Edwards, said. "It's offending to the memory and the vision of Charles Wright."
Edwards has decades of experience fighting for human and civil rights, often representing minorities who have been wronged. He said representing a white man in a discrimination suit against a highly reputable African-American museum was not an easy decision.
"I have a lot of friends who are going to think I've lost my mind, obviously, because I've been in the forefront of fighting race and race discrimination and white supremacy," Edwards said.
It's not uncommon for new administrations to make changes at the top. But according to the lawsuit, the employee who replaced Canaday as vice president mistreated him.
"He comes in and immediately begins to treat Ted like a second-class citizen," Edwards said.
Canaday said he complained to the CEO.
"Ted tells them, 'I've been subjected to racial discrimination,'" Edwards said. "Well, if I'm the CEO, I want to know why. I'm going to launch an investigation. He didn't, and two weeks later, he's terminated. He sends Ted a letter from HR (human resources) terminating him, saying this is not for performance. Well it couldn't be, because Ted's most recent performance evaluation was outstanding.
"Well, I was the only white male employed by the museum at the time of my termination," Canaday said. "I was the only Caucasian on the executive leadership team."
Canaday said Wright embraced the importance of equality. He said holding the museum accountable for what he thinks is unfair treatment might be uncomfortable, but it's the right thing to do.
"In our societal context, it is difficult," Canaday said. "Especially with one as my background and how I was raised to say, 'Hey, I'm a white guy that's being discriminated against here.'"
Museum officials aren't commenting on the case, saying it's policy not to speak publicly about personnel issues or litigation.
"Because we protect the privacy of our employees, we don't comment publicly on personnel matters, past or present," said Delisha Upshaw, director of marketing and communications for the museum.
Local 4 legal expert Neil Rockind said that's no reason to think the museum is in the wrong.
"The fact that they are not answering the bell and talking about the case to the news should not be interpreted to mean they don't have a strong defense," Rockind said. "They very well may and just want to wait and raise the defense in court."
You can see a full copy of the lawsuit below.