An employee of the City of Hillsboro has filed a federal lawsuit against both the city and mayor Drew Hastings, claiming racial discrimination, retaliation from the administration and violations of his constitutional rights.
Craig Jackson, who is, according to the lawsuit, one of two African-American employees of the city, filed the suit on Thursday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The suit was filed just two days after a meeting of city council’s Employee Relations Committee where Jackson’s wife and about 20 or so other attendees criticized the mayor and demanded council take action against him. Craig Jackson did not attend the meeting.
The lawsuit claims Jackson was the victim of racist and discriminatory comments and actions by members of the public and city employees, specifically former water/sewer and streets manager Randy Barr, after Hastings made social media posts that some said were racist, and that the city acted in retaliation against him for “opposing what he reasonably and in good faith believed to be race discrimination.”
The lawsuit alleges that Barr, who retired from the city in 2016, used a racial slur against Jackson, made inappropriate comments and said Jackson was “not the right color” after Jackson’s supervisor recommended him for a promotion.
Barr could not be reached Friday. A phone number listed under his name was not working.
The lawsuit alleges the city retaliated against Jackson by exploiting his disabilities after he and other members of the African-American community called on Hastings to resign in December 2015.
The suit claims that the alleged retaliation was also in response to a charge of discrimination Jackson filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2016 in which Jackson claimed he was retaliated against “for complaining to the City about inappropriate and discriminatory comments by Mr. Lewis.” The Times-Gazette was unable Friday to obtain a copy of Jackson’s EEOC complaint.
In a separate federal court filing also dated Sept. 21, Jackson moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting the city from requiring him to submit to a medical examination as a condition of continued employment, which is referenced in the federal lawsuit multiple times as retaliation from the city for Jackson’s protest of what he believed to be racial discrimination.
Jackson alleges in the filing that he “endured racial slurs and threats to his life,” following Hastings’ “inflammatory posts,” and after he filed the EEOC charge in February 2016, the city made him a “meager settlement offer” through the EEOC, which Jackson, unrepresented at the time, rejected.
“The city persisted,” the filing continues, “contacting Mr. Jackson directly and demanded that he speak to the city’s attorney regarding the settlement offer. Mr. Jackson refused.”
On Aug. 24 of this year, the federal lawsuit states, Jackson had a flare-up of diabetic nerve pain in his foot, and was allowed to leave work approximately one hour early.
According to the lawsuit, Jackson’s supervisor, Shawn Adkins, public works lead for the city, called Jackson and told him not to return to work because he posed a health and safety risk, and was a liability to himself and the city. The lawsuit says Jackson suffers from a number of disabilities, including back problems and diabetes.
Reached Friday, Adkins declined to comment on the record.
On Aug. 25, Jackson received a letter from the city directing him to bring records of his medical conditions to an examination on one of several suggested dates, according to the lawsuit.
Jackson informed the city he would go to the examination Sept. 20, the last date offered by the city, but on Sept. 1, he received another letter changing the date of the examination to Sept. 6 without explanation, the lawsuit states.
Jackson did not attend the examination, and voiced concerns over the matter at a council meeting on Sept. 11, as reported by The Times-Gazette. At that meeting, Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said Jackson was put on paid administrative leave at that time, adding, “We didn’t have to pay you.”
On Sept. 13, Jackson received another letter scheduling an examination with a different doctor for Sept. 22, demanding that he “sign a medical release granting the City of Hillsboro and Dr. Sardo unlimited access to Mr. Jackson’s complete medical history,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit demands a jury trial against the city and Hastings for compensatory damages for Jackson’s alleged economic and non-economic injuries, punitive damages from Hastings, attorney fee compensation and any other award found appropriate by a jury. No dollar amount was listed in the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Jackson brought the action to “vindicate his constitutional and federal statutory rights to be free from a racially hostile work environment created and maintained by the City of Hillsboro… and by its mayor Drew Hastings, and to be free of retaliation by the city and Mr. Hastings in response to Mr. Jackson’s statements as a citizen and as an employee protesting racial discrimination against him and other African-American employees.”
Hillsboro Law Director Fred Beery declined to comment on the matter, but said Drew Piersall, a labor attorney with Columbus firm Zashin and Rich, is handling the case. Reached Friday, Piersall also declined comment. Hastings said he has been advised not to comment on pending litigation. City auditor Gary Lewis did not return a message left on his cell phone.
Jackson is represented by Mesibov Butler, a Cincinnati law firm.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.