Wife of Olympic and NFL star subjected to a 'real-life Wolf of Wall Street office'
Published 20/05/2015 | 00:06
The young wife of a athletics star signed by one of the top American Football teams has claimed in a US federal lawsuit that she was subjected to sexist and racial taunts and forced to work in a real-life Wolf of Wall Street office.
Philippa Okoye, who is white, claimed that she was the target of ugly abuse and harassment for her relationship with Lawrence Okoye, the British Olympian and discuss record holder who is black.
Mrs Okoye, 27, who is also British, was allegedly exposed to a barrage of sexual and racist insults during her time working as the only woman with 20 male colleagues at the New York office of deVere Group, the financial consultancy firm.
She later moved to California where her then boyfriend has been signed by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 after he was spotted by gridiron football scouts during a winter discuss training session in the US.
DeVere has “vigorously and categorically” denied the allegations after what is described as a “legitimate employment termination”. The company and the named executive said they would fight the “false allegations” in court.
Okoye, 23, born in south London to Nigerian parents, is one of the most physically distinctive figures in British sport, with a 6ft 6 inch and 23 stone frame. He was a childhood rugby star who later turned to the discus and represented his country in the 2012 London Olympics.
Okoye is also highly gifted academically and has deferred a place at Oxford University to study law until 2017 while he pursues his sporting career. He earlier won a scholarship to Whitgift School, an independent day and boarding school in Croydon founded in 1596 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
As a teenage rugby union winger, he played in the schools final at Twickenham and was a member of the academy teams of both London Irish and London Wasps.
But while Okoye was pursuing his dream of career at the top of American sport, his then fiancée claims that she was forced to endure a torrent of abuse and discrimination at work.
Her manager allegedly modelled the office on Boiler Room and The Wolf of Wall Street – two films detailing the culture of fraud and sexism in macho-powered brokerage firms.
Her boss used a crude expletive to assert that Okoye would be having sex with the team’s cheerleading squad, according to her damages lawsuit filed this week in Manhattan federal court.
One worker allegedly announced near her: “I think it’s disgusting when white women go out with black guys.”
Another colleague advised her not to take her Okoye’s surname if they married as “people will think you are black” which “is not good for business”, her boss then added, according to the lawsuit.
She said that when other women visited the office, they were graded sexually. And when she complained, her manager allegedly told her angrily: “This is why I didn’t want women in the office.”
According to the lawsuit, an executive “made it known that he wanted to model [their] office on the ‘Boiler Room’ and ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ films.
“In those films, employees of male-dominated investment firms used highly offensive language and engaged in extremely inappropriate conduct, including sexual harassment and drug and alcohol use in the workplace.”
Mrs Okoye was hired a senior investment adviser in the firm’s Manhattan office in Oct 2013 while her then boyfriend pursued his dream of American sporting fame on the West Coast.
After Mrs Okoye complained and was demoted, her manager continued to mock her for her Christian faith, calling her a “Bible basher” and singing hymns when he walked by her desk, the court papers charged.
She is suing for damages for unfair dismissal to be determined at trial after she was fired for what her boss called performance reasons, according to court papers.
On his personal website, Okoye noted that his rise from modest roots as the son of immigrants in Croydon was the stuff of “a Hollywood movie”. But it was his future wife – they married last August – who claims that she was the victim of a professional nightmare with echoes of Hollywood.