City’s judgment upheld

Published 5:08 pm Friday, July 1, 2011

A federal appeals court has upheld a summary judgment for the City of Bainbridge in a lawsuit filed by a former city employee.

In a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit decision filed on June 27, circuit judges upheld a lower court’s decision in the matter of Shirley Morrison v. City of Bainbridge, City Manager Chris Hobby and [former finance director] Steve McKown.

Morrison had appealed the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia’s decision last October to side with the city in her age discrimination in employment claim. Morrison had also appealed the district court’s dismissal of her claim under U.S. Section 1983, a federal law that allows lawsuits for violations of constitutional rights.

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Morrison, who began working for the City of Bainbridge in 1977, was terminated in October 2005. According to the Circuit Court, Hobby fired Morrison based on more than one complaint from McKown—who became Morrison’s supervisor in 2004—as well as his own judgment.

Morrison appealed her termination to both Hobby and a grievance committee comprised of city department heads and both times she was denied relief. However, according to the Circuit Court’s decision, “Neither of her [internal] appeals mentioned that she felt she had been fired based on unlawful discrimination.”

In addition, the Circuit Court found that “Morrison’s sole evidence of age discrimination was a comment she overheard McKown make in October 2004 that he was ‘going to get these old folks out of here and bring in some new blood.’ Morrison also offered evidence from several of her co-workers who had heard McKown say similar things.”

The Circuit Court disagreed with Morrison’s argument that McKown’s statements were direct evidence of discrimination, concluding instead that they were circumstantial because they only suggested discriminatory intent.

The Circuit Court also upheld the lower court’s dismissal of Morrison’s claim of sex-plus-age discrimination. The lower court had found that Hobby and McKown were entitled to qualified immunity. The circuit court concluded that Morrison had failed to provide any factual basis to support her assertion that she had been discriminated against based on her sex and age.

McKown, a native of Cairo, Ga., was hired as the city’s accounting manager in 1998. He became the city’s financial director in 2002 and the director of the city’s General Administration Division in 2004. He left Bainbridge in June 2005 to accept a position in Commerce, Ga. According to the official Web site for the city of Clewiston, Fla., McKown is currently employed as Clewiston’s city manager.