Former police officer files discrimination complaint
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
May 06, 2013 | 3495 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A former Heflin police officer has filed a retaliatory discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the city of Heflin.

The complaint, filed on Apr. 29 at the Birmingham EEOC office, is a step that must be taken before someone can file a civil lawsuit against an employer in most discrimination cases, according to the EEOC website.

Lt. Heath Jones worked for the Heflin Police Department for three years and served as second in command. He was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 6, for allegedly violating the police department code of conduct.

He allegedly violated one policy stating officers should not have contact with people who were known to be involved in criminal activity or were suspected of criminal activity and another which said on or off duty, officers had an obligation to uphold the reputation of the department.

Jones was fired by the City Council members after a hearing on Mar. 19. City attorney Patrick Casey said after the hearing that Jones’ fiancée Connie Scott had some misdemeanor and felony convictions which prompted the dismissal.

Jones’ attorney Adam Morel had a different explanation. Morel said he and his client believe Jones was fired for his support of a former colleague who at the time was suing the city for gender discrimination. The case has since been settled.

Morel also believes the policies used to dismiss Jones were not actually in effect because the City Council had never approved them.

Casey disputes that saying City policy gives department heads the authority to set the policies for their own department. Chief Robert Pittman adopted the policies in June 2012, said Heflin City Clerk Shane Smith.

In the document filed for the complaint, Jones said he was questioned by Capt. A.J. Benefield, acting chief of the department, about the then pending lawsuit filed by former officer Susan Young.

“I corroborated Ms. Young’s claims that she was treated less favorably than one of our male officers,” Jones said in the complaint.

Later, Jones wrote in the complaint, the department obtained Scott’s social security number and illegally ran it through federal criminal databases. When it was discovered she had had the charges against her, Benefield recommended Jones be fired.

“The city had prior knowledge of the relationship for years and only claimed it to be a problem after it became clear that I would be testifying in favor of Ms. Young in her gender discrimination case,” Jones stated in the complaint. “I have been terminated in retaliation for engaging in conduct protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”

Both Mayor Rudy Rooks and Benefield referred all questions to the city attorney.

Heflin city attorney Patrick Casey said he couldn’t comment on how the city got the information about Scott.

“I don’t know how they became aware of it specifically, but the Council became aware of it when A.J. Benefield brought it to their attention,” Casey said. “What was used (for Jones’ termination hearing) I verified in the public record.”

In addition, Casey said the Young case had already been settled by Feb. 6.

“I can’t say all the agreements had been executed but the principal terms of the settlement had been reached,” Casey said. “It was some time after that when the judge actually signed off on it.”

Morel said the EEOC will investigate the complaint and at the end of the investigation issue a notice of right to sue whether its investigation finds a violation or not.

According to the EEOC website, if it does find a violation, the EEOC will try to reach a voluntary settlement. If a settlement can’t be reached, the EEOC may file a lawsuit or issue a notice of right to sue.

Morel said the investigation can take months.

“The employee is required to give them 180 days,” Morel said.

During that time, Morel said he will be going over the case.

“We will be looking at all the facts to determine any other causes of action that don’t require waiting,” Morel said.

Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
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Former police officer files discrimination complaint by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com

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