Fayette County

Fired garbage man, as his own attorney, awarded nearly $200,000 in federal court

A federal jury awarded nearly $200,000 in back wages to a former Lexington sanitation worker who said he was fired after he reported age and race discrimination in 2012.

The jury awarded Willie R. Meads, 60, $197,600 in damages after a three-day trial in April. Meads represented himself and didn’t hire a lawyer.

Now, lawyers with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government want a federal judge to set aside the jury’s decision, order a new trial or lower the amount Meads was awarded.

Without an attorney, Meads has prevailed at nearly every stage of the case. U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves dismissed the age and race discrimination case in 2015. Meads appealed that decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel overturned Reeves’ decision and sent the case back to the lower court for trial.

Meads had trained to be a driver in the city’s solid waste department in June 2012. Meads alleges that he was treated differently than the much younger drivers in his class because of his age and race. Meads is black. The city countered that Meads couldn’t perform the duties of a garbage truck driver during his probationary employment period and failed to listen to his instructors.

Meads worked for the city for a little more than a month.

He filed complaints with the city’s human resource department and the Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, saying he was treated unfairly because of age and race discrimination before he was terminated. The city knew of his complaints before he was terminated, Meads argued during the trial and in court documents.

In the city’s appeal of the April 26 jury decision, lawyers for the city argued that some testimony during the trial shouldn’t have been allowed and that it prejudiced the jury. Reeves should set aside the jury’s verdict and rule in the city’s favor, they argued. In the alternative, the attorneys said, a new trial should be ordered. The city also argued that the damages awarded to Meads were too high and were improperly calculated.

Meads hasn’t yet responded to the city’s motion to have the jury verdict thrown out.

Meads said Wednesday that he plans to file a response to that motion before the June 14 deadline.

Meads said several current and former employees have said that they heard a former training supervisor say she terminated Meads because of the complaints he filed. Those employees weren’t allowed to testify on his behalf, he said.

“My four star witnesses never got to say a word.”

The jury ultimately decided that the city didn’t fire Meads because of his race or age but that he was terminated because he made the complaints, according to the court file.

Meads now is a driver for the American Red Cross. He said it took him 11 months to get that job after he lost his job with the city.

Meads said he has been a longtime union representative and has filed grievances and lawsuits on behalf of himself and others. Federal court records show that he has filed other lawsuits against other employers. That’s where his legal know-how comes from, he said Wednesday.

“They did everything they could to trip me up,” he said. “They still took a good whoopin’.”

Still, he said, he realizes that the case is far from over. The city could prevail on its appeal, and the judgment could be thrown out.

“I’ll appeal to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals,” he said.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall