A Chinese-American woman said she received an email from a recruiting manager at a Chicago company in response to her job application, which read, "Me love you long time."
In an interview with Block Club Chicago, Connie Cheung said Chicago Search Group vice president James McMahon had accidentally forwarded her the response, which was meant for his boss Brian Haugh.
The offensive phrase, which is a known slur against Asian women, was initially spoken by an Asian sex worker in the 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket. Cheung, 27, told Block Club Chicago that she has often heard the offensive phrase, but was shocked that it would be used freely when speaking of an applicant, even if the phrase was meant to be said in private.
"Asian females have always been sexualized because of their history with Western males," Cheung said. "It's gross. That specific phrase is sexual. It's not just toward my race, it's sexual. That's all I could think of, was, 'Why? It's 2019.'“
McMahon said that the comment was meant solely for Haugh and that the business partners are "best friends" who recently watched the 1987 movie together, Block Club Chicago reported.
"It was an insensitive, inside joke only meant for my partner. It was an insensitive comment, I realize that. It was a racist comment, I realize that …I had no racist intentions. I'm not racist, I'm certainly not sexist," McMahon said. "I know I was 100 percent in the wrong. I wish it never happened, I wish I could take it back. It was a huge mistake and I'm sorry."
After receiving the email, Cheung called Haugh, who she had mistaken for McMahon.
"I asked, 'Is it because I'm an Asian female?’" Cheung said. "He just laughed."
"The quote is from a famous movie, [Google] would have told you that," Haugh wrote in an email to Block Club. "As a son of two attorneys... even I can recognize that an interpretation is an opinion, not fact."
Haugh went on to explain, according to the outlet, that Chicago Search Group has hired diverse employees, and that McMahon himself is married to a woman who is black and Colombian.
"Given those facts, a responsible reporter would ask, are these hires/relationships of a racist person/organization?" he wrote.
McMahon confirmed to Yahoo Lifestyle that he called Cheung to apologize and said that he has had a meeting with his staff to discuss the email, which is in violation of the company's employee handbook.
“This was an isolated incident that will not happen again and my sincerest apologies go out to Connie and anyone else who was offended by this statement,” McMahon wrote in an email to Yahoo Lifestyle. “Context in anything is important but certainly does not excuse anything. I realize that it was an incredibly insensitive comment. It was intended for my business partner of over a decade who was also my college roommate. This does not excuse or justify anything.”
McMahon went on to explain that the inappropriate comment is inexcusable and that the "appropriate measure will be taken as a consequence."
McMahon told Block Club Chicago that the company is an Equal Opportunity Employer and that forwarding Cheung's application to Haugh meant that they were considering hiring her for the role.
"That's why I feel horrible," McMahon said. "She doesn't know me from Adam, so I get it, I see where she's coming from. We would not have called her to set up an interview if we were not serious. We're extremely busy."
Chicago Search Group provided a statement to Yahoo on the incident.
“We deeply regret the experience and sentiment that this situation has caused. It is clearly not our intent to add or create anything but positive value in the lives of our clients and candidates. We have apologized directly to the candidate and have addressed with our team that this conduct is unacceptable. It is always our intent to use all feedback, negative and positive, to fully understand what we are doing well and what we are not doing well. Again, we apologize sincerely for the harm this has caused to anyone.”