Polaris Marketing Group, an Atlanta-based firm, said it is "disgusted" by the actions of a former employee, whose Facebook picture featuring the African-American child of a coworker went viral after it sparked numerous derogatory comments.
On Sept. 16, Gerod Roth reportedly posted a photo of himself and the child to a Facebook profile under the name "Geris Hilton."
It is unclear if the photo was initially accompanied with a comment from Roth, but several Facebook users then replied with their own comments — implying that Roth was a slave owner, referring to the child as “Kunta Kinte" and others, according to screenshots from the thread.
Roth responded at one point with, "He (the child) was feral," according to screenshots.
The thread spurred an outpouring of anger on social media, including under the hashtag "#HisNameIsCayden."
In an Oct. 2 Facebook statement, Polaris President Michael Da Graca Pinto condemned the post, and identified the mother and son involved as Sydney and Cayden.
Pinto told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Roth was fired for unrelated reasons on Sept. 29, before the company was aware of his Facebook post. Pinto said he became aware of the post when Sydney told him about it on Oct. 2.
"It breaks my heart that Sydney and her adorable son Cayden were subjected to such hateful, ignorant and despicable behavior. Cayden visits my office almost every afternoon after daycare, he's sat at my dinner table and I consider him a part of the PMG family," Pinto said in his statement.
"The comments were horrible," Pinto told the AJC's Ernie Suggs. "What Sydney was upset about is that he referred to her son in slanderous ways and didn't defend him."
At least one of the participants in the thread is defending Roth: Skylar Felton, who commented on the original photo with "#BlackLivesMatter," said in a Facebook post Monday that Roth made a "bad joke" which he regrets.
"My Dawg isnt Racist, he just made a bad joke & im sure when he is given the outlet to speak about his regret, he will," Felton wrote. "He has never said or done anything racially insensitive to Cayden in his workplace, in fact, they were friends.
"We all make mistakes, and he should be given the chance to be forgiven and we can all move on. I wouldnt be cool with him if he was a racist, im Black it would be a conflict of interest."
Sydney reportedly posted on her own social media accounts: "We are above all this nonsense that has been going on," she wrote. "Cayden and I truly appreciate all of the love that we have been shown in the last 24 hours."
Reports that another Facebook user was also fired from her job because of her participation in the thread could not be immediately verified. Pinto said the other user was not a PMG employee.
Neither Roth nor Sydney could be reached for comment.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Adam Carlson contributed to this story. This story has been updated.