City answers HIV discrimination lawsuit

By Ed Brock

The city of Riverdale categorically denies the allegations in a lawsuit by a former police officer who claims he was fired because he was HIV-positive.

Former officer Russell Rogers, who was fired last September, also claims in a federal lawsuit that he had an intimate relationship with Riverdale Police Maj. Greg Barney. Barney's attorney said she's filed a slander lawsuit against Rogers in Fulton County.

Rogers' lawsuit alleges that the city sought to discover the nature of his illness after a city council member inquired at a meeting about an increase in the cost of the city's health insurance rates. The city called Rogers' doctor and sent a supervisor by his residence to make sure he was home while on sick leave.

According to city documents, Rogers was fired because he had illegally and improperly registered his car tag with the address of Riverdale City Hall and because he had broken the chain of command.

In its answer to the lawsuit the city does little more than deny the allegations in each paragraph of Rogers' complaint. It also claims that the city was improperly served notice of the lawsuit and that it "implemented no policy or custom, whether express or informal, allowing the violation of plaintiff's federal rights."

Also, the city states in its answers that Rogers cannot establish that the city had knowledge of his condition or that there was any sexual discrimination against him.

Rogers' attorney Daniel Levy said the city's answers were a "generic denial" so he had no further comment on them.

On June 21, 2004 another former Riverdale officer, Debra Johnson, filed a complaint that Barney was giving Rogers special treatment due to their prior relationship. At that time Rogers was out on sick leave.

It was on that occasion that officers with the department called him to tell him to come to work despite his being sick, Rogers said. That's when a supervisor came by the apartment to make sure he was there, Rogers said, and that supervisor ran Rogers' license plate number through the Georgia Crime Information Center to verify that it was his vehicle in the parking lot.

Rogers complained to the GCIC about the supervisor running his tag. In a letter describing her reasons for terminating Rogers, Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie wrote that Rogers violated the chain of command by going to the GCIC.

Jessie also brings up another incident in which Rogers had supposedly checked a tag on a car belonging to another city employee. Jessie admits in the letter that an investigation into that incident ruled the allegation "unfounded," "I find your actions to be unprofessional and a negative reflection upon the City of Riverdale."

Jessie said previously that she could not comment on pending litigation.

Rogers responded to Jessie's letter in writing, saying the reasons given by the city were not serious enough to warrant firing him and that the termination was an act of retaliation because he complained to the GCIC.

As for the allegation of a relationship with Barney, Rogers said previously that the relationship was short and had taken place several years ago when Barney was a sergeant.

Barney's attorney Mary Huber previously said her client denies that any such relationship occurred. Huber said on Tuesday that she has filed a lawsuit for slander against Rogers in Fulton County but that it not yet been served to Rogers' attorneys. Levy said he couldn't comment on that lawsuit until they had been served.

Rogers' suit, which requests a jury trial, asks for 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. Rogers also wants punitive damages, with 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.