ATLANTA (AP) — A federal lawsuit filed Thursday accuses Georgia's Bartow County of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it fired two Black men two years ago.
U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan of the Northern District of Georgia said the county, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Atlanta, subjected former employee Carlen Loyal to a racially hostile work environment and retaliated against former employee Bobby Turner before dismissing them both.
“No one should be forced to labor in an environment where employers condone racial slurs and employees are expected to tolerate them,” Buchanan said in a news release. “It is also unacceptable for an employer to foster a work environment where employees with the courage to report such abhorrent behavior experience retaliation from supervisors and face termination of their jobs. Our office will vigorously and continuously leverage our resources to address this type of illegal discrimination in the workplace.”
Loyal worked for the county’s Road Department for almost 10 years and Turner, who is his brother-in-law, was also employed there for several years, according to the news release.
In 2019, Loyal complained to his supervisor that a white co-worker sent him a text message referring to him as the “n-word.” After Loyal complained, the human resources director called Loyal into his office where he subjected Loyal to more racial harassment in front of the employee who allegedly sent the text, the Justice Department said.
The HR director also demanded that Loyal tell him if he’d told anyone else about the text, and Loyal said he’d told Turner.
Two weeks later, the county accused Loyal and Turner of misconduct and fired them. According to the complaint, Loyal and Turner had each been promoted several times and had no history of discipline with the county.
Loyal and Turner filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and found reasonable cause that the county violated the law.
The United States is asking the county to develop and implement policies that would prevent discrimination and retaliation. It's also seeking to compensate Loyal and Turner for damages sustained as a result of being fired.
In a statement, Peter Olson, county administrator for Bartow County, rejected the allegations in the lawsuit, calling them outrageous.
"Bartow County government does not racially discriminate nor retaliate against its employees," Olson said. “The two employees in question were fired for repeatedly falsifying time sheets and claiming overtime hours for work they did not perform, thereby stealing from the county.”
Olson said the same action would be taken against any other employee.
“We will be contesting the suit vigorously,” he added.