10 employees file suit against Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government

Discrimination alleged by employees of Streets and Roads Division

shopkins@herald-leader.com gkocher@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2011 

Ten Lexington city employees have filed a lawsuit against the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, citing various allegations of discrimination.

Among the plaintiffs are John Bledsoe, Curtis L. Carter, Omer Cowherd, Alex Hicks, Larry Price, Brent Ross and Darryl Stewart, who say they were discriminated against while employees of the Streets, Roads and Forestry Division because of their race. The seven men are African-American.

The lawsuit says Gene L. Barrell Jr. was sexually harassed; Ann Ratliff was discriminated against because of her gender; and Jack Barnett, who is 62, said he faced age discrimination as a supervisor in the division. The lawsuit says plaintiffs were retaliated against after filing complaints to the city.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Fayette Circuit Court, seeks lost wages and other compensation.

The case has been assigned to Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine. The plaintiffs referred questions to Lexington attorney Debra Ann Doss, who could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Also named as defendants are Sam Williams, director of the Streets, Roads and Forestry Division, and Albert Miller, deputy director of that division.

Williams and Miller declined to comment.

Susan Straub, spokeswoman for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, said, "We don't comment on open lawsuits."

The 45-page lawsuit lists several incidents detailing discrimination and retaliation that occurred in the Streets, Roads and Forestry division.

The suit said Price was denied assignment to light-duty work at his job with the Streets, Roads and Forestry Division "even though other similarly situated white employees who had medical restrictions were allowed to work light duty."

Price and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Wednesday complained in writing in January 2009 about racial discrimination in promotional opportunities, job assignments and pay of African-American employees, and verbal abuse, extreme profanity by supervisors and other conduct constituting abuse of authority and mismanagement by supervisors.

According to the lawsuit, Price was unfairly suspended without pay for alleged inefficiency. He was denied desirable overtime work assignments. He was required to operate a "known unsafe truck with malfunctioning brakes which resulted in an accident causing injuries," the lawsuit says.

Cowherd and Ross said they were unfairly suspended without pay for going to lunch away from a work site even though white crew members went to lunch away from the work site without being disciplined.

The lawsuit said Ross was required to have a doctor's note for any sick days, but notes were not required from white employees.

Hicks said he was passed over for a supervisor position, which was filled by a less qualified white employee, the suit said. And he was reprimanded for failing to answer his pager during a Christmas break even though he was not required to have a pager during the approved vacation.

The lawsuit said Hicks and Stewart were assigned dangerous jobs during storms and were required to work inside unventilated drainage pipes in violation of safety policies and procedures.

Bledsoe was excessively drug-tested and was refused light-duty assignments after an injury, according to the lawsuit.

Carter was not allowed to take shelter during a rodeo event when it started raining, "even though the white supervisor allowed the other employees to take shelter in the same building while it was raining," the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, Barrell complained about sexual harassment because his supervisor patted him on the butt and made harassing comments. Barrell says he was retaliated against after filing a complaint. The lawsuit said he was given undesirable jobs and was excessively criticized for not keeping his truck clean.

Ratliff, who started working in Streets, Roads and Forestry in December 1996, complained in October 2009 about gender discrimination. Ratliff said "she was being treated unfairly, differently, and less favorably than similarly situated male employees who were given opportunities to be in acting supervisor's positions and then be promoted to full-time supervisors."

Barnett, who was appointed to supervisor in 2000, was told to give Ratliff a written reprimand for filing a frivolous grievance, the suit says. Barnett refused to reprimand Ratliff but complained about Williams' conduct.

The suit said Williams became angry at Barnett and told him to "watch out for the wrath of Sam," according to the lawsuit.

Barnett was later denied a promotion to supervisor senior last year. The position was given to a younger applicant with less experience.

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