An employee of The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans is suing her employer over a mural hanging in the hotel that depicts African-American slaves picking cotton.
Deandra Pitman, a 32-year-old African-American massage therapist at the Roosevelt, claimed in a lawsuit filed Monday that the hotel was violating her civil rights because its painting “creates a hostile work environment and subjects her to feeling demeaned and looked down upon,” Courthouse News Service reported.
Scroll down to see the mural that led to the lawsuit.
The 73-year-old mural, which hangs on a wall in the hotel’s lobby floor, depicts African-Americans picking cotton in a field and one shirtless slave drinking alcohol while riding a donkey backwards.
Al Thompson, Jr., the attorney representing Pittman in her suit against the Roosevelt, recognized that it may be difficult to totally remove the mural, and said his client would be satisfied if the hotel simply covered it.
“The mural bothers her every time she walks through the lobby," Thompson told The Huffington Post. “The hotel should appreciate the sensitivities of their employees and their guests.”
Pittman posted an online petition in 2012 on the website change.org demanding the removal of both the mural mentioned in the lawsuit and another painting located in the hotel.
In the petition, she included an email exchange between her and the hotel's then general manager, Tod Chambers, who assured Pittman that the paintings "can and should remind future generations that this is a past we should not repeat."
Paul Ninas, a Caucasian native of Missouri known as the "Dean of New Orleans Artists," created the piece of artwork in 1939 during the social realism movement, according to a plaque that hangs near the mural, Courthouse News reports.
“Like much of art, the subject matter from the social realism movement can be considered out of touch with current mores and standards,” the plaque reportedly states. “At its core, however, a work of art is an expression of its subject in the context of its values, culture and events of its specific era.”
A Roosevelt Hotel manager did not immediately return a request for comment from HuffPost by phone. Hilton Worldwide, which owns the Roosevelt, declined to comment, saying only that it “does not comment on matters of pending litigation.”
The State Education department in Albany, N.Y., dealt with a similar controversy in 2000 after staff members, some of them African-American, complained that its mural showing an unsettling image of a slave was offensive, The New York Times reports.
Officials eventually decided to hide the artwork by draping a curtain over the mural, titled "The Genius of America."
In 2012, however, the department’s first African-American commissioner, John King Jr., began showing the painting for an hour each month.
This post has been updated to include information from the change.org petition posted by Pittman and to include an image of another mural located in the hotel that is referenced in that petition.