Crime

Lexington dispatcher's lawsuit: Reprimand followed report of unsafe equipment

A Lexington 911 dispatcher filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court Wednesday, saying she was retaliated against for reporting an equipment malfunction that puts firefighters, officers and citizens at risk.

According to the lawsuit, telecommunicator Amy Ross has repeatedly reported that "malfunctioning 911 keyboard equipment" frequently causes computers to shut down, dropping emergency calls and interrupting crucial communications with officers and firefighters in the field.

The lawsuit against the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government seeks an undetermined amount of compensatory and punitive damages and the removal of reprimands from Ross's personnel file.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city could not comment on pending lawsuits.

For three years, Ross has "frequently and vocally" brought the malfunctioning equipment to the attention of her supervisors, including Division of Enhanced 911 Director David Lucas, according to the lawsuit. The problem has not been corrected, the document said.

On Feb. 16, Ross went over her supervisors' heads and alerted the city's public safety commissioner of the problem by email, telling him that she and other telecommunicators would be willing to hold car washes, bake sales or other fund-raisers to get money to replace the faulty equipment if the city couldn't afford it.

Soon after contacting Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason, Ross was given a written reprimand from her supervisors based on an audit of her work that determined she had refused too many 911 calls, according to the document. Refused calls roll over to another call taker, which can create a delay in the call being answered.

The reprimand against Ross was placed in her personnel file. Multiple reprimands could lead to termination, the lawsuit said. Ross had previously gotten an oral reprimand for refusing calls in November 2010.

Ross, reached by phone Wednesday, deferred comment to her attorney, Shane Sidebottom.

Sidebottom called the faulty keyboards "a huge safety issue." He said the discipline was "bogus" and based on personal dislike because Ross was vocal about problems at the division.

"From my review of the information to date, it appears there is a targeted pattern of selective enforcement of discipline," he said.

Sidebottom said the refused calls were either dropped by the faulty computer system or turned away because they were deemed low priority during emergency situations.

"Her primary duties are as a police dispatcher and ... radio traffic had to be handled first on an emergency basis," the lawsuit said.

The audits that led to the reprimands were based on data compiled by AK Associates, a Florida-based company that contracts with the city, according to the lawsuit.

AK Associates, which features written testimony from Lucas on its Web site, is in bad standing with Kentucky's Secretary of State, the lawsuit said.

According to the Secretary of State's Web site, a Florida company called Kraus Associates, with an assumed name of AK Associates 911 Inc., had its authority to conduct business in Kentucky revoked in 2009 after it failed to file an annual report.

Lucas did not immediately return messages for comment about the allegations in the lawsuit.

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