The lawsuit against the International Tennis Federation and the U.S. Tennis Association was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Thursday on behalf of Cecil Holland, 47, of Queens, and Sande French, 47, of Albion, Calif.
According to the lawsuit, Holland and French, who are black, and other minority umpires have been subjected to racial slurs while they faced limited opportunities in a hostile work environment.
From 1991 to 2004, Holland chaired over 1,500 professional tennis matches, advancing faster than any umpire in history to the level of "gold badge" status, attained by about 20 to 25 of the roughly 2,000 umpires worldwide, the lawsuit said.
Still, he was never permitted to sit as a chair umpire at a U.S. Open Tennis singles finals match and was demoted after he complained in 1998 that a USTA employee called him a racial slur.
In an interview, Holland said he found the discrimination against female umpires particularly disappointing.
"This is like going back to the world when women didn't have the right to vote," he said. "It's sexism at its best. If women can officiate in the NBA, where it gets really heated, how can they not officiate for men in white shorts? I mean it's tennis, it's a gentlemen's sport."
Since 1986, French has worked as an umpire at thousands of tennis matches and chaired about 1,500 matches, the lawsuit said.
It said she faced discrimination and retaliation and lost income and employment opportunities after she complained that women were not permitted to chair important men's matches and that blacks were discriminated against.
The lawsuit also alleged that a senior manager in charge of the officiating program at the International Tennis Federation was a sexual predator who tried to coerce his subordinate male employees into sexual relations and hampered the promotion of women umpires.
Chris Widmaier, a USTA spokesman, said the organization had no comment on the lawsuit. A recorded message at the International Tennis Federation said the office was closed late Friday.