Contracted Santa worker says negative criticism was racially driven

FORT MILL, S.C. — Tony Harkey worked his first day as Santa Claus at the Cabela’s in Fort Mill and after his shift he was brought to tears when reading criticism online about what people thought of him.

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He believes the negative comments on Cabela’s Facebook page were racially driven.

“Do not go this year for Xmas pics, guy looks nothing like Santa," a post read.

Harkey bleaches his hair and beard white to get into the Christmas Spirit.

“That's what drives me to be Santa, make sure kids are happy -- make sure kids are smiling,” said.

He’s been one of Santa’s helpers for three years, dressing up as St. Nick.

“It would be better not to have Santa than to have one who will make children uncomfortable or question if Santa is real," another Facebook post read.

He thought his first day was going great and said there were no problems.

“Because I was black,” Harkey said. “That is what it boils down to, to me."

The U.S. Army veteran quit after his first day and said Cabela’s didn’t stand up for him.

“Not sticking up for me,” he said. “My name to be slung throughout the mud.”

Cabela’s statement:

"We do not discriminate on the basis of race or skin color. Because we value customer feedback, we always follow up with customers who express disappointment in their experience with us, which is what took place here.

“In this case, it’s unfortunate the individual made the decision to terminate his employment before we could speak with him about what we perceived to be addressable performance issues."