After Accosting Black Tenants For Using The Gym, White Business Owner Has His Lease Terminated
You don't have to go home, Tom Austin, but it looks like you've got to get the hell out of this Minneapolis WeWork.
A white venture capitalist in Minneapolis had his office lease terminated after accosting Black tenants using the building's gym on Tuesday, according to the Star Tribune.
Tom Austin went viral on Wednesday when Minneapolis-based social media and branding agency Top Figure posted a video of him threatening their employees who were trying to use a gym in the building they shared.
Top Figure is based out of the WeWork co-working space in the building.
The Black employees were using the gym in the Mozaic East building in Uptown Minneapolis when Austin, whose venture capital firm F2 Group is also based in the building, said they didn't belong there and threatened to call 911.
Instead of calling 911, he decided to call the building’s property manager, claiming the Top Figure workers shouldn't be there.
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Normally we don’t speak out about encounters of racial profiling and age discrimination that we face day to day in our lives as young black entrepreneurs. Although today May 26th 2020 7:51pm we encountered a situation where a man entered the facility, a shared private gym that we utilize in our @wework @mozaic_east office located in uptown Minnesota. Granted we’ve been in this office space and have rented and grown our business for the past 1 year and half here. As we were working out this man approached and immediately asked us who we were and if “WE BELONG” in this building. Granted in order to enter the building you NEED a key card to enter EVERY part of the building which EACH of our team members individually have. We all pay rent here and this man demanded that we show him our key cards or he will call the cops on us. We are sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis and we feel that we had to bring light onto this situation.
Since the video racked up views on Instagram and Twitter, Austin's office lease has been terminated by the Ackerberg Group, the company that owns the building.
He sent brief remarks to the Star Tribune in an email, writing that he "should have handled it differently. Not my job to have done anything.”
Austin added that he regretted speaking to the men and said he was not a racist. He told the outlet that he became suspicious of the men because only one of them appeared to have a key fob and was letting others into the bathroom and the gym.
“By the end of the night, we were on talking terms. I said, ‘I’m sorry you thought I was being racist, but I was not. If you were a bunch of women, I would have done the same thing,’” Austin added.
In the video, the Black employees become incredulous when Austin demands to know whether they are tenants.
“I’m Tom Austin. I’m a tenant in the building — are you?” Austin said to the men who immediately called him out for racism in the video.
Stuart Ackerberg, CEO of the company that owns the building, spoke to the Star Tribune and said that in light of the current situation surrounding the death of George Floyd, he felt it was necessary to act quickly.
“My heart hurts. This is not how we do business … I’m alarmed by what I saw. It appears they had every right to be there and to use that amenity. I shared with him that I did not think it was handled well and there are other ways to go about this. It’s unfortunate. Our goal is to create a safe and inviting experience for everybody,” Ackerberg said.
In its Instagram post, the company said it has been paying rent in the building for more than a year.
"We are sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis and we feel that we had to bring light onto this situation," the company wrote.
Austin spoke with Business Insider and explained the situation further, telling the newspaper that Nicole LaVere, the building's manager, is the one who sent the email out telling building tenants that they should not allow people who don't work in the building to use the gym and that it may be closed if the problem persists.
The news outlet asked Austin to give them a copy of the email to confirm his account, but he never got back to them.
In a longer statement to Business Insider, Austin called the story fake news and said he was only trying to be helpful. He was not happy that the video went viral because he assumed the issue had been resolved.
"Yes, I f**ked up. Building management had been complaining that tenants were allowing their friends to trespass and use a private gym that was authorized only for building tenants," Austin told Business Insider.