Ranch Owner Fighting Racism Allegations

Madeleine Pickens, the ex-wife of Oklahoma-based energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens, is in hot water for some directives she offered to a newly hired chef at her dude ranch. Ms. Pickens recruited the chef from a country club she owns in Southern California and brought him out to run the kitchens at her Nevada dude ranch and wild horse sanctuary.


Now, before we get into the part that got Ms. Pickens in PR trouble, let’s take a moment to park on the fact that she owns and operates a wild horse sanctuary. She’s also consistently described in the press as a “wealthy philanthropist” in just about any news article written about her … including the ones about this incident. So, all told, not really a bad lady … but she did happen to ask her chef something he took rather poorly.

So, what did the billionaire’s ex-wife ask of the black executive chef? She wanted him to cook “black people food” at her ranch, as opposed to “white people food.”

That is, at least according to the lawsuit that was leaked to the press and got Ms. Pickens in all the trouble. According to the chef, by way of the legal documents, Armand Appling says Ms. Pickens ordered him to cook “fried chicken, BBQ ribs and cornbread” for the tourists who chose to pay upwards of $2,000 per night to stay at the ranch.

This might sound silly … or not, depending on your point of view, but the next bit of information clouds the issue even further.

Appling was fired in 2014. He said, in retaliation for complaining about a hostile work environment. The lawsuit claims Ms. Pickens consistently made “stereotypical references” while at the ranch. His accounting of this includes the compulsory firing of two kitchen staffers, whom Pickens referred to as her “bull” or “ox” … she also said they didn’t fit the image of the sort of people she wanted working at the ranch.

Not exactly a smoking gun, but Appling and his attorneys know enough about the current cultural climate to understand that any allegations of racism by rich, white people will earn headlines. And, often, headlines lead to settlements. That may not be the case here, but the relatively weak “he said/she said” nature of the case appears headed that direction.

And PR pressure may be the only hope for Appling’s case at this point, after a Nevada judge ruled that his attorneys have, to this point, failed to prove the kind of racial hostility they’re claiming. The initial lawsuit was dismissed, but Appling’s side can still appeal.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations. 5WPR is headquartered in New York City — with offices in Los Angeles and Denver.

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