A bit of Topps' often expected whimsy has resulted in a lawsuit filed by a former African-American employee who says he was the one photographed for the 2011 Triple Threads John Henry 'relic' card but was never compensated by the company. Christopher Holmes, who worked for Topps from 1994 until being fired in August of last year, says he's also "suffered public ridicule, degradation, humiliation, emotional distress, economic damages, and other injuries" by being depicted as the fictional former slave turned workingman's hero. Holmes is suing the company for $1 million in punitive damages.
In court papers filed in New York County Court, Holmes attorneys say it wasn't the first time during his Topps career that he'd been photographed for company products, but each time he was shown the picture and a mock up of the card before it was released (exactly what those cards were wasn't revealed).
However, the suit claims in July of last year, Topps asked to photograph him for another future project. Holmes, a former brand manager with the company, claims he had no idea the card would depict him as John Henry, wearing bib overalls and carrying a sledgehammer. Holmes says he was then fired in August without cause.
"Topps knew, or should have known, that it was unlawful to use the likeness, image, portrait, and/or picture of Plaintiff without his written consent and that Topps had not obtained such required consent," reads a section of the court filing. " Topps knew, or should have known, that Plaintiff did not and would not consent to the use of his likeness, image, portrait, and/or picture to depict him as a former slave."
Triple Threads was released later that fall, with the Henry card joining Pecos Bill and Leif Erickson amid the baseball cards. Only five were issued and they weren't favored by most collectors, many of whom saw it as an unnecessary gimmick that cheapened the product. One of the Henry cards sold on eBay in October for $84.
The suit cites New York state civil rights law that prohibits a person from being photographed for the purpose of advertising or trade without written consent.
Court papers: Topps Vs Christopher Holmes