Gay man sues America's Cup
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A gay former America's Cup employee is suing operators of the yacht race, claiming he was wrongfully terminated after top officials mocked his sexuality.
In his civil complaint filed March 13 in San Francisco Superior Court, Larry Jacobson, who worked as a VIP spectator boat captain during the races last summer, says one man made a limp wrist gesture at him, while another called him a "poof," a derogatory term for homosexual.
However, a former supervisor told the Bay Area Reporter that Jacobson had "pushed his sexuality very hard" and had been "inappropriate."
Jacobson is claiming sexual orientation discrimination, failure to pay overtime, and failure to pay wages upon discharge, among other complaints. He's seeking unlimited damages exceeding $25,000.
The complaint names ACRM Operations US, LLC; America's Cup Race Management; and America's Cup Event Authority, LLC specifically as defendants. America's Cup officials hadn't responded in court as of Tuesday morning and either couldn't be reached by the B.A.R. for comment or didn't respond.
In his complaint, Jacobson says he was hired in June 2013 as a spectator boat captain for the races, which ran from July through September and drew competitors including billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and thousands of viewers to San Francisco's waterfront. Oracle Team USA prevailed in one of the greatest comebacks in sports, defeating Emirates Team New Zealand in the race series by 9-8, and the team had to win the last eight races in the come-from-behind victory.
After Jacobson was hired, co-workers and superiors knew he was openly gay, his complaint says. He also gave copies of his book The Boy Behind the Gate to Andy Hindley, chief operating officer for America's Cup Race Management; the wife of Harold Bennett, who was then America's Cup director of on-water operations; and David Powys, Jacobson's direct supervisor, according to the filing. The book covers Jacobson's experience sailing around the world with his same-sex partner. (His sailing exploits and his hiring for the America's Cup was covered in the B.A.R. 's sports column last year and in 2007.)
"Although initially friendly to Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Hindley and Mr. Bennett became cold and unfriendly toward him," the complaint says.
Jacobson claims that in August, he approached Hindley to request that he be considered for doing break down work once the regatta was over.
Hindley "made a 'limp wrist' gesture" and said, "People like you, don't want work like that," Jacobson claims, and he didn't get the job.
Then, at a party in September, Bennett told friends, "That's our poof," referring to Jacobson, according to the complaint. Bennett lives primarily in New Zealand, where "poof" is a derogatory term for gay men.
On September 12, the filing says, "without warning, and in blatant breach of his contract," Jacobson "was summarily terminated without legal cause or justification." Bennett and Hindley made the termination decision, Jacobson claims.
He says in his complaint that Powys didn't approve of that decision and "later reached out to [him] to apologize for his colleagues' conduct."
But in an email exchange with the B.A.R. , Powys said, "Mr. Jacobson pushed his sexuality very hard and was inappropriate and embarrassed many people on many occasions which people let go, so he is far from innocent in this matter."
Asked about examples of such behavior and witnesses, and whether he had written documentation to support his statement, Powys said, "No I do not."
In an email on which Jacobson was copied, Powys, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, also said, "Please do not quote me or use my name in any articles you may be writing. I was not present and know very little of how and why Mr. Jacobson's contract was terminated.
"Should you use my name in court, any article or press release you will have your own lawsuit from me, I trust you understand," he added.
Citing advice from his attorney, Zachary Shepard, Jacobson declined to be interviewed for this story.
"The lawsuit speaks for itself," Shepard said. "I wish I could talk about it more, but I think I should probably not talk about a pending matter."
Bennett didn't respond to a Facebook message. Hindley and other America's Cup officials couldn't be reached.
Neither Bennett nor Hindley are listed as defendants in the complaint.
Jacobson, who claims in his lawsuit that he suffers "humiliation, emotional distress, and physical and mental pain and anguish," works as a motivational speaker, according to his website, http://www.larryjacobson.com.