By Ed Brock
A former Riverdale police officer is suing the city, saying he was fired because he has AIDS.
According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Russell Rogers had to take regular, authorized sick-leave to receive treatment for his condition. At some point the city began investigating to discover his condition in an attempt to learn who was causing an increase in their health insurance rates.
After they learned about his condition, Rogers alleges in the lawsuit, the city officials fired him. Also, the suit states that then interim Chief Greg Barney had a special relationship with Rogers but that relationship "resulted in a hostile work environment which ultimately led to (Rogers') termination upon the recommendation of Acting Chief Barney."
Barney is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, only the city of Riverdale. The suit alleges that Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie actually terminated Rogers.
Jessie and Barney both declined comment on the lawsuit, saying they could not comment on pending litigation. The city attorney Deana Johnson also said she could not comment on the specific case, but she did make one general comment.
"You can file a complaint and put anything in it and it's public record," Johnson said.
Johnson said the city was served with the lawsuit last week and has 20 days from the date of service to file its official answers.
Rogers filed the lawsuit as "John Doe," but a court document indicates that he is the plaintiff. His attorney, Adam Jaffe, said his client would be available in the near future for comments and said they would be amending the complaint to add more details later.
"He's scared to death," Jaffe said about his client. "He's scared to death that his life is in danger at this point due to the severe allegations he's made against the city of Riverdale."
According to the lawsuit Rogers was on sick leave "on or near" the date of his termination and his supervisors made "specific attempts to determine his whereabouts and the nature of his illness, including using employees of the police department in these attempts."
Upon learning of his illness the city fired Rogers, the lawsuit alleges.
In the suit Rogers is asking for a jury trial. He wants compensatory damages, including a retroactive compensation for loss of wages and salary as well as loss of future wages due to the harm his termination caused to his career as a police officer. He also wants punitive damages, both amounts to be set by the jury.
Also, Rogers asks the court to forbid the city from engaging in future discrimination and wants the city to pay for his legal and court costs.
Although the city's liability coverage for directors and officials expired in April, Jessie said the city does have insurance to cover this lawsuit.
Rogers also contacted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a "Notice of Right to Sue." Bernice Kimbrough, director of the EEOC Atlanta District Office, said she could neither confirm nor deny whether a specific case had been investigated.
In general, Kimbrough said, a "Notice of Right to Sue" can be issued if her office has had a case for 180 days or if she certifies that the office will not be able to get to the case within 180 days. The notice is also automatically issued if the commission investigates a case and finds no basis for discrimination.
In the Rogers case, according to the document, the notice was issued because the commission would not be able to address the case within 180 days.
During his three years with the department Rogers served for a while as the public information officer. Barney, currently a major with the department, was appointed as interim chief following the resignation of former Chief Mike Edwards last year.
At that time Barney said he was not interested in becoming the permanent chief.