Attorneys are moving forward with legal action against York Memorial Park in south Charlotte after ownership at the cemetery tried to have a lawsuit that makes disturbing allegations of grave desecration and other offenses dismissed.
Filed in March, a class-action lawsuit against Carothers Holding Company, LLC, and its subsidiary Stonemor North Carolina LLC, which owns York Memorial Park, claims that, due to negligence by the owners, cemetery management has consistently lost track of people buried at the cemetery, sold plots that didn’t exist, desecrated graves and punctured vaults while doing exploratory digging, and buried bodies — including those of babies — on top of one another.
A recent motion to dismiss filed by the cemetery owners in their own defense attempts to poke holes in the class-action lawsuit, though a source familiar with the case said the plaintiffs plan to file an amended complaint that will address the issues raised by the motion to dismiss before May 31.
The case is just the latest in a series of allegations against ownership at York Memorial that goes back to 2012, when three plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Stonemor on behalf of their deceased relatives that made similar claims of negligence at the cemetery.
While the class action lawsuit was moved to federal court in April, a separate lawsuit filed by Robin Morris, a former general manager at the cemetery who turned whistleblower after being fired in 2021, remains in superior court, where it’s been requested for a jury trial.
Morris’ suit claims that, after coming on as an account executive in 2010, she was regularly directed by the owners to make false and misleading claims to families shopping for cemetery plots at York Memorial, including selling plots that the cemetery knew not to be available and failing to ensure that the cemetery plots purchased by and for family members would be the same plots that people were buried in.
Things came to a head for Morris in September 2020, according to the suit, when the brother of Vanessa Little Mack came to York Memorial to visit his sister’s grave.
The suit claims that ownership had directed Morris and other employees “to conceal from the members of the Little Mack family that the location of her remains were unknown. Further, the designated location which had been told to the Little Mack family by Defendants as the gravesite of Vanessa Little Mack was not her gravesite. In fact, as part of furthering the intentional concealment, the Defendants had caused a headstone for Vanessa Little Mack to knowingly be placed on an empty grave.”
Morris claims to have become more aggressive in her pushback against these deceptive practices, complaining more consistently in meetings, until “the anxiety, mental anguish and psychological suffering” that came about as a result of being forced into lying to customers and families caused her health to deteriorate, placing her on medical leave.
When she returned from leave in January 2021, she was fired without reason, according to the suit.
Morris’ lawsuit makes many of the same claims as the class-action suit, which was brought by Hubert Simpson, a Charlotte man acting on behalf of his “multiplicity of family members” buried at the cemetery, including his mother, aunts, uncles, cousins and great aunts and uncles.
Beyond her personal experience with the Little Mack family, Morris claims in her suit to have witnessed some of the actions alleged in the class-action suit, including an especially disturbing claim that the cemetery repeatedly buried babies on top of each other in the same spot over a span of years “to the extent that an area of the cemetery is commonly referred to among workers as ‘the hill of babies.’”
A history of prejudice
Morris also claimed that people were routinely not buried next to the person they were contracted to be buried next to and that improper record keeping led to a slew of disturbing discoveries, as cemetery staff repeatedly unearthed bones in previously unknown grave sites while digging new graves for plots that had been contracted out.
For these reasons, the class-action lawsuit, though filed by Simpson, makes claims on behalf of all persons who purchased interment rights or services at York Memorial Park from Jan. 1, 1969 to the present.
It’s believed that York Memorial has been involved with the burial of more than 28,000 people since its founding.
“This class of persons represent and affect a substantial population of the African American community in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina,” the lawsuit reads. “Such class of persons include the gamut of members of the African American community ranging from prominent historical Civil Rights leaders of the 1960s, to business leaders, as well as educators, cafeteria workers, domestic workers and even infants.”
One of those people mentioned in Morris’ lawsuit, Vanessa Little Mack, remains a symbol of racial prejudice in the city. One of 11 victims of Henry Louis Wallace, a sexual predator and serial killer who stalked and killed Black women in Charlotte between 1990-1994. Many believed Wallace was only able to remain active for so long because of police investigators’ apathy for his Black victims.
Nearly 30 years after her murder on Feb. 20, 1994, Little Mack is once again serving as a symbol of mistreatment of Black bodies in Charlotte. However, more importantly, Morris’ lawsuit also serves as a reminder that Little Mack is more than a symbol — a family member with loved ones who still miss her dearly.
Local attorneys Pamela Hunter and N. Clifton Cannon Jr., who are representing Simpson in the class-action lawsuit, are asking for more than $200,000 in damages, as well as other measures including that each claimant be entitled to the conveyance of the respective burial plot that they purchased.
For many, however, that may be impossible, as the lawsuit states, “The acts of these Defendants has resulted in the eternal loss of opportunity for this Class to know and feel confident that the final resting place of their beloveds are indeed the final resting places of their loved ones.”
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