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Sunday, February 10,2013

Fired county 911 employee sues agency, claims discrimination

By Jim Phillips

A former employee of the Athens County 911 emergency communications system has sued the agency, claiming among other allegations that she was fired because she is female and because she tried to organize an employees' union.

Crystal Richards of Glouster, who also claims that she was unjustly accused of sexually harassing another worker, has asked for at least $375,000 in damages, plus lost wages, punitive damages in an unspecified amount, and court costs.

Richards claims that she was "railroaded" out of her job, based on what she calls "trumped-up charges," in order to allow two male employees to get more hours on the job. She further alleges that 911 officials defamed her, in statements relating to sexual harassment that were allegedly made to the Athens Messenger and published in that newspaper.

In December, the Messenger ran an article reporting that the county commissioners had rejected what they described as a settlement offer by Richards in connection with her termination.

The story quoted a letter of determination by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which purportedly stated that Richards had been fired over an allegation that she committed sexual harassment during her probationary period. The story also quoted Richards' attorney, Adam Baker, as flatly denying the sexual harassment charge. The newspaper is not named as a defendant in Richards' suit.

Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason declined to comment on the litigation when contacted Sunday.

"Until I see the lawsuit, I can't comment on it," he said.

Eliason did note, however, that Richards had earlier filed a complaint with the OCRC, which he said refused last September to take the case. "She was rejected" by that agency, he said.

Richards, represented by Baker, filed her suit Thursday in Athens County Common Pleas Court.

In the suit, she says she was hired as a part-time 911 employee in November 2010, then promoted to full-time in August 2011 after completing a probationary period. She was terminated – wrongfully in her view – in February 2012.

According to the complaint, Richards was a classified employee who never belonged to a union at the agency. Before getting promoted to full-time employee status, however, the suit claims, she "had been involved in organizing a labor union for… part-time Athens County 911 Emergency Communications employees."

The suit states that 911 fired Richards without giving her a written explanation for why she was being terminated. Her lawsuit alleges that she was fired because she is female, and because of her "union involvement."

She claims in the suit that a 911 official "had previously expressed a desire to increase (the agency's) number of male employees," and she alleges that firing her "served his purpose."

She also alleges that two male, part-time 911 employees falsely accused her of sexually harassing them, in order to get her fired so they could work more hours.

Richards' suit lodges five counts, alleging that the county's 911 agency violated public policy by firing her for her gender and her union organizing; that this constituted a "malicious and discriminatory discharge"; that she was deprived of property and liberty interests without due process of law; that the agency recklessly inflicted severe emotional distress on her; and that it committed defamation by creating "slander and libel" against her.

Her complaint asks for at least $75,000 in damages on each of the five counts.


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