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Color Purple actor fired for homophobia and who would have ‘refused to play gay role’ loses tribunal

Maggie Baska February 17, 2021
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The Color Purple actress dropped from show for anti-gay post

Seyi Omooba was axed from an upcoming musical production of The Color Purple for an anti-gay Facebook post (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty)

Actor Seyi Omooba, who was fired from her leading role in The Color Purple over anti-gay Facebook posts, has lost her legal battle over claims of religious discrimination, breach of contract and harassment.

The Color Purple actor sued Leicester’s Curve Theatre and her former agency Michael Garrett Associates after she was dropped from the stage performance. She had been due to play the lead character Celie, who is a lesbian in the original novel, but was dismissed after a post she wrote on Facebook in 2014 emerged where she said she did not “believe you can be born gay” and that she did not “believe homosexuality is right”.

The Central London Employment Tribunal rejected Omooba’s claims that her sacking by the theatre amounted to discrimination against her religious beliefs, as she is a staunch Christian.

The tribunal concluded the reasons why she was dismissed were because of the “effect of the adverse publicity from [the 2014 post’s] retweet, without modification or explanation, on the cohesion of the cast, the audience’s reception, the reception of the producers” and the “good standing and commercial success” of the production.

On the harassment claims, the panel ruled the Leicester Theatre Trust “did not have the purpose of violating the claimant’s dignity or creating an intimidating or humiliating environment for her” instead the trust’s purpose was “to save the production”.

Color Purple actor Seyi Omooba would have refused Celie role if she thought she was gay.

It emerged during the tribunal hearings that Seyi Omooba had previously told her agents that she would refuse to play any role if she thought the character was gay. She was let go from her agency following the uproar.

The tribunal also heard testimony from Omooba’s lawyers that the sexuality of Celie is ambiguous as the “most famous adaptation” of The Color Purple is the movie adaption by Steven Spielberg. They argued it was unclear in the movie if Celie was gay or not.

It later emerged that Omooba admitted to never even reading the script for the role in The Color Purple.

But the employment tribunal rejected this argument, with the panel commenting: “She had taken part in a similar production, she had the script and knowing that a lesbian relationship was at least on interpretation, she should have considered whether a red line was to be crossed.”

Omooba had tried to sue the theatre for her original £4,309 full salary for the production, plus a further £25,000 for injury to feelings and reputational damages. She also sued her former agency for £98,752 for loss of earnings, future losses, injury to feelings and reputational damage.

The employment tribunal dismissed Omooba’s demands for compensation as it said: “There is no financial loss because she would not have played the part”.

It continued: “There is no loss of opportunity to enhance her reputation by performing because she would not have played the part.

“If there is damage to her reputation, it was not caused by being dropped from the production but by an unconnected person’s tweeting… of her Facebook post and the outcry resulting from that.”

During the hearing it emerged Omooba had been offered her full fee “unconditionally”, but had turned down the request. She was supported in her claim by the legal arm of Christian Concern, co-founded by her pastor father Ade Omooba.

Related topics: employment tribunal, Seyi Omooba, The Color Purple

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