Former Houston jail supervisor files racial discrimination lawsuit

bpurser@macon.comSeptember 24, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- A former jail supervisor has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Houston County, the sheriff and the former jail administrator.

Rick West, a former sergeant who supervised the inmate intake area of the jail, claims retired jail administrator Maj. Charles Holt discriminated against him and other black employees.

The alleged discrimination culminated in West’s firing in August 2010, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, which was filed Sept. 6 and amended Sept. 11 in federal court in Macon, seeks a jury trial, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees. Holt declined comment. County Attorney Tom Hall could not be reached for comment.

West, who started out as a corrections officer at the jail in 1995, alleged in the lawsuit that Holt “used racial epithets to describe black employees.”

In the lawsuit, West said he was told he was fired for a July 2010 incident at Seanna’s Lucky Cabin off of Watson Boulevard involving himself and his girlfriend. However, the lawsuit contended that West was terminated “due to his race” and because “he was an African-American man who had dated white women,” the lawsuit states.

In the July 2010 incident, West said he learned his girlfriend was at Seanna’s Lucky Cabin, which he believed was operating illegally, the lawsuit states.

West drove to the business, went inside and told his girlfriend she needed to leave. As they were leaving, the owner and an employee of the business began yelling at West, according to the lawsuit.

“Mr. West left the establishment without any physical altercation or contact whatsoever with the owner or employee,” the lawsuit states.

But after they left, the owner called police and claimed West assaulted the employee by “allegedly putting his hand on the employee’s forehead and pushing him back inside the building,” the lawsuit states.

Police responded. No injuries were recorded, no charges were filed and West thought the matter was closed, the lawsuit states. But later that month, Holt recommended West’s termination. West was suspended without pay pending termination. West appealed, and his termination was upheld by an independent hearing officer.

“Multiple white employees of the sheriff’s department and the Houston County Detention Center engaged in conduct materially similar to the conduct for which Mr. West was terminated and were not terminated for such conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.

West, who now lives in DeKalb County, received positive performance evaluations from his supervisors, according to the lawsuit.

The independent hearing officer appointed by Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton to hear West’s appeal found that his “termination of employment was proper given the facts and circumstances in the matter,” according to the Aug. 26, 2010, letter terminating West. The letter and other related documents were reviewed Tuesday by the Telegraph.

Jeff Lasseter, a Warner Robins attorney who served as the independent hearing officer, stated in his findings that West was fired for violating standard operating procedure. He noted West’s conduct at Seanna’s Lucky Cabin “rose to the level of conduct unbecoming an officer.”

According to the Warner Robins police report, West “snatched” his girlfriend out of her chair. He also allegedly pushed the employee. The employee declined to seek an arrest warrant. As he was leaving, West allegedly stated that he was “going to come back with his boys and shut them down,” the police report states.

Justin M. Scott, an Atlanta attorney representing West, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission previously issued “a determination finding” that there was “reasonable cause to conclude” West was fired due to his race. Scott declined further comment due to the pending litigation.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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