Ex-clubhouse attendant sues Tigers, alleges racial discrimination; team denies claims

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The former Detroit Tigers clubhouse attendant who says he was on the receiving end of multiple insensitive remarks by Chris Bosio is suing the franchise and the ballclub's former pitching coach, alleging racial discrimination.

Derrell Coleman II, 22, of Lansing, filed the lawsuit in Wayne County Third Circuit Court on Thursday, and is seeking more than $25,000 in damages.

Chris Bosio

Coleman's lawyers allege in the filing that "a culture of racism was tolerated by the upper echelons of management."

Coleman is black and alleges he was treated differently than his white counterparts.

Among Tigers employees named multiple times in the lawsuit are general manager Al Avila, assistant general manager David Chadd and long-time clubhouse attendant Jim Schmakel.

A Tigers spokesman, on behalf of all team personnel, released a statement to The Detroit News on Friday afternoon, that read, "When this allegation was first brought to the attention of club management, we took swift and immediate action. We strongly refute the allegations against our organization made in Thursday’s filing. We hold all of our personnel to the highest standards of personal conduct both on and off the field, and we have a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior and workplace harassment.”

Contact information for Bosio, fired by the Tigers last summer in his first year on the job, could not be located.

Coleman worked for the Tigers during the 2017 and 2018 seasons as a clubhouse attendant; the job entails lots of grunt work, from laundry to packing bags for road trips, to even getting Starbucks for players, if asked — and just about everything in between.

According to the lawsuit, problems started arising during 2018, Bosio's first season as pitching coach, after a tenure with the Chicago Cubs. Coleman alleges one time, while he was mimicking a pitcher on a mound, Bosio approached him and said, "Get off my mound, boy." That allegedly happened in the summer of 2018.

Earlier in 2018, at spring training in Lakeland, there apparently was a running gag in the clubhouse to plant odd items in players' and coaches' lockers, so they'd be caught on camera during interviews. Coleman put an item in Bosio's locker, and after Bosio found out, he allegedly approached Coleman and told him if he "ever touches (his) locker again, (he) would skin (Coleman) alive." Coleman alleged Bosio also would throw garbage at him in the dugout.

Coleman allegedly was urged by some in the Tigers organization not to complain. He specifically cited Schmakel's long-standing policy with all of his clubouse attendandants: "Be seen, not heard." 

Chris Bosio

Coleman heeded that advice until June 2018, when he was walking in the hallway outside the coaches' office in the home Comerica Park clubhouse. Bosio was talking to then-bullpen catcher John Murrian, and as Coleman approached, Bosio allegedly said, "He was a dead-brained idiot, like this monkey here," referencing Coleman.

Coleman responded, "What did you say?" Bosio responded, according to the lawsuit, "I called you a monkey, so what?"

According to the lawsuit, Coleman did report that incident, which made its way to the upper levels of the Tigers' front office.

Bosio was fired within 24 hours, the Tigers issuing a statement saying, "The organization holds all of our personnel to the highest standards of personal conduct both on and off the field. We have zero tolerance for this type of behavior. The club will have no further comment on this matter."

Rick Anderson, manager Ron Gardenhire's long-time right-hand man in Minnesota who came to Detroit as bullpen coach, was then elevated to pitching coach, a position he maintains today.

Bosio had claimed that the term "monkey" was a reference to a nickname he had for Tigers reliever Daniel Stumpf, "spider monkey." Stumpf denied ever hearing that nickname, according to multiple media reports at the the time, including The Athletic.

Bosio did text an apology to Coleman, before he was fired.

Coleman said there were witnesses to each of his encounters with Bosio, who hasn't landed a job in baseball since his firing.

There were other incidents that troubled Coleman, including a two-week suspension he received in June 2018 for leaving a player's bats at his locker. Meanwhile, according to the lawsuit, another clubhouse attendant forgot to pack one of the Tigers' catcher's equipment for a road trip so he drove it to Chicago, but was not disciplined.

Coleman, according to the lawsuit, stayed on the job, and shortly after Bosio's firing, Tigers legend and front-office member Willie Horton reached out to him to discuss a possibility of "scout school." After the season, there were several meetings, including ones with Horton, Chadd and members of the Tigers' human-resources department, regarding a possible internship in Lakeland or Detroit, perhaps in the baseball-operations department, for the 2019 season.

Coleman, in the lawsuit, said he left multiple meetings with executives with the impression that his future with the Tigers was on solid footing.

Then, in early January, Coleman then was told by the Tigers they were "going in a different direction," and Chadd told him to explore opportunities at Michigan State.

Coleman suffers from Asperger's, a disorder that makes social interaction and communication difficult, and the Tigers were aware of this during the 2018 season. 

According to the lawsuit, after the Tigers told him he no longer was to be employed, he was admitted to the hospital for "suicidal ideations and chest pain." Then, in Feburary, the Tigers reached out to him after Bosio filed a lawsuit, the team asking Coleman to sign an affidavit supporting the Tigers — which Coleman's lawyers told The News he refused to sign, for a number of reasons, including possible retribution from Bosio.

That request by the Tigers, according to the lawsuit, resulted in Coleman "developing symptoms of intrusive distressing memories, recurring distressing nightmares, prolonged psychological distress," among other symptoms, including panic attacks. Lawyers say Coleman has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Coleman is represented by Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap out of Lansing.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984