Going Viral

Server Gennica Cochran (foreground) became internet famous last year for ordering customer Michael Lofthouse (background) to leave after he made racist remarks.

The headlines – and there were a lot of them – stemming from the incident last July appear with the same general theme: “Tech CEO Michael Lofthouse steps down after being filmed hurling racist insults at an Asian family,” came from Forbes. “Solid8 CEO Michael Lofthouse resigns in wake of racist rant captured on video,” from CBS News-San Francisco. And from CNN, “Tech CEO resigns after video shows his racist rant towards Asian American family at California restaurant.”

The video, which diner Jordan Chan posted to her Instagram account, starts with someone at her table saying, “Say that again. Oh what, now you’re shy?” And as server Gennica Cochran calmly but firmly tells Lofthouse to leave, Lofthouse stands, puts on his jacket and tells the family, “No you need to leave, fucking Asian piece of shit.”

That California restaurant is Lucia at the famed Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley and the family members are Jordan Chan, her mother Malia Chan and her brother Ethan Chan; and her maternal aunt, Mari Orosa, and Orosa’s husband Raymond. Last August, they filed a lawsuit against Lofthouse alleging he violated their civil rights when he went on a racist tirade on July 4, telling them “you don’t belong here,” “go back to whatever fucking Asian country you’re from” and “Trump’s gonna fuck you,” according to the lawsuit, as they were celebrating Mari Orosa’s birthday.

But in a strange turn of events in an already strange series of events – the incident, the viral publicity surrounding it, a pair of GoFundMe campaigns that raised six figures for Cochran, and Lofthouse resigning from the cloud computing company he led – Lofthouse has countersued, claiming he’s a victim of cancel culture.

In February, acting as his own attorney, Lofthouse filed the cross complaint against the Orosas and Chans, Bernardus Lodge and Spa and Bernardus manager Sean Damery, claiming defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and cyberbullying.

The countersuit was publicized in March in a piece written by Lofthouse on the press release distribution site PRLog (bearing the headline “Another Victim of Cancel Culture is Fighting Back”) and again on onlineprnews.com, where the media contact is listed as John Gonzalez from the Washington, D.C.-based organization Stop Cancel Culture.

Nicholas Sarris, the attorney representing the Chan and Orosa families, says one goal of their suit is for people to recognize that publicly expounding racist views is not acceptable in the public sphere, and is prohibited by the Ralph and Bane civil rights acts.

“What Mr. Lofthouse did is interfere with their rights to the enjoyment of public services provided by this restaurant and under California law, this is illegal,” Sarris says. “We’re trying to change the culture and get people to understand that racist activity in the public is not protected by the First Amendment.”

His clients, he adds, have a serious and ongoing concern over the harassment of Asians and Asian Americans. “It’s got to stop,” Sarris says, “and so does the continued perpetuation of racist ideology.”

A Bernardus representative said the organization would have no comment. Lofthouse, in a phone interview, says he had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for two weeks after the video went viral. He doesn’t believe he’ll work in his chosen profession – software development – ever again.

In his suit, Lofthouse says he’s struggled for years with alcohol addiction and had consumed multiple glasses of wine that night. In the countersuit, he included a variety of text messages and emails he received, including several suggesting he kill himself, hoping he gets killed and threatening to track him down and assault or kill him. He also contends there’s no reason to believe he’s a racist, but strangely adds that both Cochran, the server, and Jordan Chan are active “in the Black Lives Matter extremist movement” and participated in a BLM event in Marina last year.

That July 13 march was attended by hundreds.

The parties are due in court for a hearing at 9am on Friday, May 14, at the Monterey courthouse, at which time Sarris will ask a judge to dismiss Lofthouse’s countersuit.

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