Timothy Burnett, a former Lextran bus driver and union head, has sued Lextran, Amalgamated Transit Union and others, saying he was a victim of racial discrimination and there was an illegal conspiracy to terminate him from his job.
Burnett, 45, filed the lawsuit without the assistance of an attorney on Monday in Fayette Circuit Court. He is seeking $300,000 in "actual" damages and another $300,000 in "punitive and/or vindictive" damages, a jury trial, court costs and attorney fees.
Burnett, who was convicted last year of stealing money from Local 639 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, or ATU, says in the suit that Lextran and the union worked together to remove him as president of Local 639 and take control of the union local, which represents Lextran employees.
Burnett, who is black, says in the suit that he was suspended and terminated from his job as a bus driver for "concocted violations" and that white employees in the same circumstances were not suspended or fired. He says he was retaliated against for helping members of the union local file racial claims against Lextran with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
When a Herald-Leader reporter contacted Burnett on Wednesday to ask him to provide more details, he said: "I don't need to talk to you. Have a nice day."
Lextran general manager Rocky Burke, who is named individually as a defendant in the suit, said Wednesday that he was surprised by the lawsuit.
"I didn't know this was even being considered by Mr. Burnett," he said. "I don't know him at all, so it's very surprising to me."
Burke, who went to work for Lextran in 2008, after Burnett was suspended from his job, said he didn't have "firsthand knowledge of anything he's put in his suit against us." Burke said the only thing he was aware of is the reason Burnett was terminated: misappropriation of union dues.
Burnett was suspended from his bus driving job and his position as president of the union local in September 2007 after another union member told police that money had been stolen from Local 639 and that he knew who took it. Burnett and Bobbie Kay Martin, who was the local's financial secretary, were charged with several counts of felony theft and later indicted by a Fayette County grand jury.
In October 2010, Burnett was convicted of one count of felony theft by unlawful taking and was sentenced to a year in prison. Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark put Burnett on probation for five years. The judge also ordered him to pay about $25,000 in restitution. Burnett has filed an appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
Martin was convicted of one count of misdemeanor theft by deception. She was sentenced to 12 months in jail, but the judge put her on probation for two years.
Shortly after Burnett and Martin were arrested, Lexington police detective Eric McCrickard testified in Fayette District Court that Burnett had told other union members that he had a gambling habit.
Burnett, who was hired Oct. 1, 1996, by Lextran, was suspended without pay from his job as a driver on Sept. 13, 2007, Lextran spokeswoman Jill Barnett said. A letter written by a Lextran official that was placed in his Lextran personnel file said he was suspended pending the disposition of criminal charges against him, Barnett said. Burnett was fired Dec. 10, the same day he entered an Alford plea to the felony theft by unlawful taking charge involving union funds. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that enough evidence exists for a judge or jury to find him guilty. Barnett said a termination letter in Burnett's personnel file indicated he was fired because of his Alford plea.
It's unclear when Burnett was terminated as president of Local 639.