Whitney, who worked for United for two years, was fired July 21, three days after making an upside-down okay symbol with his right hand during a staff photo taken on the National Mall during MLS All-Star Game festivities.
In court documents, Whitney said he had “no knowledge before July 21, 2023, that the traditional okay hand gesture had in recent years been partially appropriated by white supremacists [and he] could not have been communicating a meaning of discrimination that he knew nothing about.”
In a recent interview, Whitney told The Washington Post: “It’s just a random game you do like you put bunny ears up in a photo. … It’s just like a stupid, silly game.”
Asked if he is a member of a white supremacist group, Whitney replied: “No chance. Absolutely not.”
A similar uproar occurred in 2019, when Army cadets and Navy midshipmen made the gesture during a televised football game between the academies. Subsequent investigations concluded they were playing the circle game.
After the photo drew a largely negative reaction online, the lawsuit said, United scheduled a meeting with Whitney and told him the hand gesture could be “construed by some as a white power signal.” Within a few hours, the team told Whitney it had conducted an investigation and he had been fired, the suit said.
“D.C. United could not have conducted any kind of remotely legitimate, thorough, or good faith investigation in less than two hours,” the suit said.
In a news release that evening, United announced the firing of the “club’s athletic trainer” but did not name Whitney — which, the suit said, “could not reasonably refer to anyone other than Reade Whitney.” The suit alleges the language in the news release was “completely unnecessary and hurtfully false, demonstrated ill will and malice.”
It also alleges that “even if D.C. United had chosen to abruptly terminate Reade Whitney’s employment on any grounds, with or without justification, there was no legitimate reason to publish any statement on their website and social media platforms. D.C. United has forever falsely linked Reade Whitney to ‘racism, homophobia, misogyny, [and] discrimination.’ ”
In the suit, Whitney claims United “destroyed [his] reputation in his community of professional soccer through their false publications … [and his] ability to earn a living in his given trade and profession.”
Whitney, who said he has not found a new job, also worked for MLS teams in Montreal and Chicago. In the interview, he said he is trying to “get my name out of the mud and restore my reputation. … I can’t Google myself now without being associated with those things.”