Asian American jobseeker says she was sent racist email by Chicago recruiter

The vice president of the recruiting firm said the incident reminds us that "we should communicate with anyone as if everyone was listening."

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Janelle Griffith

An Asian American jobseeker says she was sent an email containing a racist phrase by a Chicago recruiter.

Connie Cheung, who is Chinese American, applied June 25 for a position as an office management assistant on LinkedIn and was contacted a day later via email by James McMahon, a recruiting manager at the Chicago Search Group.

Cheung said the email contained the phrase, "Me love you long time," which is widely considered to be racist and sexist.

The phrase was originally from the 1987 film "Full Metal Jacket," spoken by a character who was a Vietnamese sex worker, and later sampled by rap group 2 Live Crew.

The email's author, James McMahon, had intended the message for his boss, Brian Haugh, president of the Chicago Search Group.

Cheung, 27, took her frustration to Facebook.

"When you apply for a job and the recruiting managers are emailing about you behind your back," she wrote in a public June 26 Facebook post accompanied by a screenshot of the email.

Cheung told NBC News on Wednesday that while she has never seen "Full Metal Jacket," she recognized the phrase because it was hurled at her in high school.

"I was more shocked and irritated than anything," said Cheung, who grew up in Florida and moved to Chicago in 2018.

She said she could not believe that a potential employer would use that phrase at all, let alone in a work email.

On June 27, a friend of hers contacted Haugh via email in Cheung's defense and he responded, “With all due respect, I am focused on bigger problems than your friend being offended by a movie. Sorry, but just don’t have time for this. Best of luck to you!! You may want to google libel laws before your crew posts things publicly. Our attorneys are on call….”

The Chicago Search Group's website has been taken down and a phone number listed on the company's Facebook page is linked to another business.

Minutes after Haugh sent the email to her friend, Cheung received a phone call from McMahon.

"He tried to explain that the quote is just from a movie and I explained that it was racial," Cheung said.

McMahon told NBC News that he called Cheung to apologize for this "isolated incident." He also confirmed that the email was intended for his business partner "of over a decade," Haugh.

He said Haugh's email to Cheung's friend was "a knee-jerk reaction."

McMahon said his "sincerest apologies go out to Connie and anyone else who was offended."

"It was a very poor attempt at humor from a quote from the movie 'Full Metal Jacket'," he said. "Context in anything is important, but certainly does not excuse anything. I realize that it was an incredibly insensitive comment. This does not excuse or justify anything."

He also said: "However, imagine if everyone had every inappropriate comment or poor joke that was typed, texted or spoken available for the public to see."

The incident "is a reminder for all of us that we should communicate with anyone as if everyone was listening," McMahon said.

"To be clear, this was wrong, there is no excuse and the appropriate measure will be taken as a consequence," McMahon said, adding that he has apologized to his entire team and "will lead the way in ensuring this never happens again."