City wins lawsuit

Published 9:09 am Thursday, October 7, 2010

The City of Bainbridge won an age discrimination lawsuit filed against it.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia in Albany granted the city, as well as City Manager Chris Hobby and former employee Steve McKown, a summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by Shirley Morrison, 55.

On Sept. 21, the court sided with the city in Morrison’s claim of age discrimination.

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According the ruling, “The Court notes that, given Plaintiff’s long history of service to Defendant, her termination is extremely unfortunate. However unfortunate, Plaintiff’s termination was not illegal. An employer’s reason for termination need not have been ‘prudent or fair,’ and the employee may have been terminated for ‘a good or bad reason, without violating federal law.’”

Morrison was the city’s purchasing director when she was terminated in May 2005. She has been employed with the city since 1984.

Morrison claims that when she had to report to McKown following a reorganization by Hobby, that problems arose. The court recounts the circumstances leading up to her termination, and that Morrison appealed her termination with the city’s grievance committee, which upheld the city’s firing of Morrison.

However, Morrison claimed in her lawsuit that age discrimination was a plan McKown initiated to terminate her due to her age. She said she overheard McKown say while existing Hobby’s office in October 2004 to “get rid of the old folks …” and “bring in new blood.”

The court said another older female employee heard the remark as well, but could not discern who the remark was directed toward.

“The other female employee that overheard the remark was eventually demoted and ultimately retired,” the court document said.

McKown said that he doesn’t recall making the statement, but in fact stated that his general philosophy is that government employees have a “tendency to become complacent in their work.”

Furthermore, the ruling stated Morrison established three of the four factors for her case, but failed to demonstrate disparate treatment between her and comparable employees “similarly situated in all relevant respects.”

Morrison said she believed these five city employees—Dewayne Logue, Gene Powell, Tommy King, Bob Gardner and Larry Funderburke—were similarly situated to her.

According to Morrison, each of these employees also engaged in conduct similar or more egregious than her alleged conduct, but none were discharged.

In contrast, the city disputed Morrison claim that the other five were “fostering a hostile work environment through intimidation, rudeness and condescension toward others.”

“The Court finds that of the five purported comparators, none provide a sufficient apples to apples comparison such that the quantity and quality of alleged misconduct even approaches Plaintiff’s alleged wrongful conduct … as compated to Plaintiff’s that resulted in the July 2004 formal reprimand and brief suspension. Therefore, Plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.”