NEWARK, N.J. (CN) - Paint giant Benjamin Moore fired back at a former black employee who claimed that a series of paint colors sported racist names, calling his claims in a libel counterclaim "nothing more than a proverbial grinding of the axe."
Clinton Tucker claimed
in Federal Court last month that the company's use of paint colors with names like "Clinton Brown" and "Tucker Chocolate" were "despicable and racially insulting." He says he was fired when he brought it up.
But in its counterclaim for defamation, Benjamin Moore dismissed those allegations as "patently false" and "indicative of Tucker's utter disregard of the truth without justification or excuse."
Although it wasn't claimed in his lawsuit, Tucker then told the media that the colors were named after him. Benjamin Moore says he was fired along with many others during a reorganization, and that the company's use of the color names pre-dated his employment as an "eCommerce Marketing Specialist" with an $88,000 salary.
The colors are part of the company's Williamsburg Collection, featuring 144 hues inspired by 18th and early 19th century colors.
The "Tucker" family of colors - which include "Tucker House Chocolate," "Tucker Cupboard Orange" and "Tucker House Gray" are named after Saint George Tucker, a prominent Williamsburg, Va., legal scholar and judge, and are the colors he used to paint his house in colonial Williamsburg.
"The 'Tucker' paint colors are not named after Clinton Tucker," according to the counterclaim.
Additionally, Benjamin More the "Clinton Brown" also was so-named before Tucker joined the company.
Benjamin Moore says the "extra-judicial" statements that Tucker made after filing his lawsuit - that the colors were named after him - caused it to be inundated with calls from the media, employees, customers, suppliers and others. Many consumers took to social media sites, stating "that they would not buy paint from Benjamin Moore as a result of these false accusations."
Benjamin Moore also says that with his lawsuit, Tucker had an "ulterior motive in improperly misusing and abusing the civil process."
The company seeks damages and lost profits for libel, abuse of process, breach of contract. It also wants the money back that it paid Tucker "during the term of his disloyalty."
Tucker is represented by Charles Schalk with Mauro, Savo, Camerino, Grant & Schalk of Somerville.
Benjamin Moore is represented by Joseph Guarino with DLA Piper, which declined to comment on the countersuit on Wednesday.