Madison County

Former employees allege sheriff fired them over politics

Four former employees of Madison County Sheriff Nelson O'Donnell allege in a lawsuit filed Thursday that they were fired in retaliation for their politics.

Evelyn Thomas, Derek Thomas, Nolan Winkler and Randolph Worley allege in the suit filed in U.S. District Court that their terminations violated state and federal law. The Thomases were deputies and Winkler and Randolph were court-security personnel, the suit says.

The firings allegedly happened shortly after O'Donnell lost the May 18 Democratic primary to Jerry R. Combs by only 82 votes. In addition, Pat Begley, husband of sheriff's Maj. Teri Begley, lost the Democratic nomination for jailer to Doug Thomas, who is related to Evelyn Thomas, Derek Thomas and Winkler.

O'Donnell had no comment on the lawsuit Thursday. "I haven't been served yet," he said.

O'Donnell has said he intends to run as a write-in candidate for sheriff for the November general election.

The lawsuit says the plaintiffs "have never been informed of" the reason for their firings, "nor was there any other cause for their dismissal other than their political patronage concerning the 2010 elections."

The lawsuit says "there is a well-defined policy in the commonwealth of Kentucky that employees, law enforcement officers in particular, should be free to exercise political support and association of the candidate and party of their choice, without fear of reprisal by their employers.

"The actions of the defendant were intentional, and designed solely to be malicious, vindictive, to punish the plaintiffs for their political beliefs and/or political support concerning the sheriff's department, and to cause emotional distress to the plaintiffs," the suit says.

The former employees seek a trial by jury, compensatory damages including lost wages and benefits, punitive damages and reinstatement to their former jobs.