City of Griffin and City Manager Kenny Smith sued for alleged civil rights violations

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The city of Griffin and City Manager Kenny Smith have been served with a civil lawsuit alleging the civil rights of two former employees were violated.

The suit pertains to the 2014 restructuring of the Griffin Police Department which resulted in the elimination of two positions – those of Maj. Terry Brock and Capt Dwayne Jones, the plaintiffs in the case.

The lawsuit, filed in US Federal Court in Georgia’s Northern District, states, “1. This race discrimination case arises from Defendants’ policy of using race, rather than the City’s published policy of seniority and classification, years of service, critical skill, and job performance, to select personnel for termination during a reduction in force. Defendants denied Brock and Jones, both Caucasian career law enforcement officers with commendable service records and exemplary qualifications, the opportunity to retain or be reassigned to employment positions for which they were more qualified than their African American counterparts who were retained or reassigned. 2. By terminating Plaintiffs because of their race, Defendants violated Plaintiffs’ right to be free of discrimination in the workplace. Plaintiffs Brock and Jones bring claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), the Equal Protection Clause, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 for damages and injunctive relief.”

It continues, “26. During calendar year 2013, Defendants allegedly perceived a need to cut the GPD budget. 27. Defendants did not conduct a comparative analysis or a manpower needs assessment to determine how to reduce the GPD budget through position eliminations and reassignments. 28. Rather than conducting a comparative analysis or manpower needs assessment before implementing GPD position eliminations and reassignments, Defendant Smith provided only a single-page GPD roster to selected law enforcement professionals and asked them to make restructuring recommendations based only on the face of that document. 29. Defendant Smith received suggestions to eliminate various positions in response to his above-pled request, but Smith decided to eliminate only Plaintiffs’ positions. 30. On December 3, 2013, Defendant Smith informed Plaintiff Jones that he was eliminating his position and that he was reassigning Major Homer Daniel, an African American, to a UPD captain position. 31. On December 4, 2013, Smith informed Plaintiff Brock that his Major’s position was eliminated because of budget concerns. 32. Defendant Smith did not use the City’s Personnel Policy Section 6.4 factors of seniority, classification, years of service within the City of Griffin, performance of a critical skill, and job performance over the past three years to select Plaintiffs for termination. 33. Under the reduction in force plan, Smith reassigned Major Homer Daniel, an African American with less seniority and lower rated job performance than Plaintiff Brock, as a Captain of UPD. 34. Smith did not offer Plaintiff Brock a position as Captain of CID or of UPD. 35. Captain Donald Britt, an African American who had six years less experience as a Captain and lower rated job performance than Plaintiff Jones, less experience with GPD than Plaintiffs, and no CID duties during the relevant time before the reduction in force, was not selected for termination. Instead, Donald Britt was reassigned to a CID Captain position. 36. Smith did not allow Plaintiff Jones to retain his position as Captain of UPD, nor did Smith offer Jones reassignment to CID Captain or to another Captain’s position. 37. As a result of Plaintiffs’ termination, the City released the only two Caucasian command staff officers and retained the two African American command staff officers. 38. Defendants’ actions forced Plaintiffs into retirement effective February 1, 2014.”

Smith, who is being sued in his personal capacity, acknowledges having been served in the lawsuit, but declined further comment.

“You’re probably going to have to talk to the attorneys,” Smith said. “If it was left up to me, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but the attorneys wouldn’t want me to say anything about it because it’s pending litigation.”

R. Read Gignilliat, an attorney with Thompson Elarbee, the law firm representing Smith and the city of Griffin, said the lawsuit is without merit.

Brock and Jones’ complaint first came in the form of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that was submitted soon after their positions were eliminated. At that time, the plaintiffs were seeking $500,000 each in compensation.

Gigilliat said to the best of his knowledge, no settlement negotiations were conducted.

“We realized we are so far apart it wouldn’t be a productive use of time and resources to pursue discussions with the EEOC office,” he said. “It really is pretty routine. We make that decision on a case-by-case basis.”

Gignilliat said his office has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit, but that will be done by the end of March.

He anticipates the suit’s timeline will then be fairly routine.

Attorneys for both parties will have 30 days of pre-discovery followed by four months of discovery, which will include written discovery and depositions.

“It’s not inconceivable that discovery may be extended,” he said.

The plaintiffs and defendants will then have approximately three weeks to file motions in the case.

“We’ll be trying to convince the court that the case needs to be thrown out,” Gignilliat said.

He said briefings on the motions filed – the final step prior to the trial’s commencement – will take roughly three weeks.

“I wouldn’t expect that we’ll hear back on motions before the end of the year,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised not to. I wouldn’t expect to.”

If the court does not dismiss the case, Gignilliat said he anticipates the city and Smith will prevail.

“These two gentlemen lost their jobs as a result of their positions being eliminated by a reorganization of the Police Department,” he said. “The decision was made after consulting with law enforcement professionals outside of the jurisdiction. It was determined that their positions were redundant. Those decisions were made without regard to their race.”

Publisher’s note – The Grip was unable to reach Brock and Jones’ attorney, Eleanor Attwood, of The Buckley Law Firm. We will continue in our efforts to reach her for comment on this story.

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