Riverdale triumphs in two discrimination suits

By Daniel Silliman


The City of Riverdale and its police department prevailed in two discrimination lawsuits. The cases were thrown out of federal court on summary judgment.

City manager Iris Jesse said the city was celebrating Tuesday, and felt vindicated.

"We felt confident," she said, "that the city would prevail."

Former police department sergeant, Phillip R. Neely -- who previously received a settlement of $95,000 from the city -- had his second lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that the accusations listed in the suit were covered in the settlement.

Neely argued in the U.S. District Court of Atlanta that he had experienced discrimination, harassment and retaliation, after he filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, Jesse said.

Neely filed a suit in 2003, arguing that he had not been promoted because he is black. In the second suit, filed in 2005, he demanded to be re-instated in the police department, with the rank of police chief, assistant police chief or captain, Jesse said.

City Attorney Deana Johnson said the suit was frivolous, making accusations that had already been settled -- and the court agreed.

The second discrimination suit was filed by former police officer, Russell Rogers, in 2005. He argued he have been fired because he was HIV positive, Johnson said. He also claimed he had been in a relationship with a supervising officer, who had created a "hostile work environment."

The city's lawyers successfully argued in federal court that Rogers was fired because he illegally used the city hall address to register his car tag.

Jesse said the city's internal investigation did not find a relationship between Rogers and anyone in the department, and no one knew he was HIV positive, until after he filed suit.

"No one knew of his status," Jesse said. "I certainly didn't. I didn't even know who he was, to tell you the truth."

Rogers' case was dismissed on summary judgment, last week.

Police Chief Samuel Patterson said the "summary judgment rulings remove a dark cloud from over the Riverdale Police Department."

Jesse said there was a "proliferation of lawsuits," when she took the city manager position and Thetus Knox took the top spot at the police department. The police had "inadequate policies and procedures" in place to prevent discrimination, and there may have been a culture at the police department, contributing to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission complaints.

"That put the citizens in jeopardy of having [lawsuit costs] come out of their pockets," Jesse said. "It's never ideal to have these proliferation of suits. It's better to try and work things out, to work with your employees and address their concerns."

Jesse recommended settling the suits against the city when she took over. Then-police chief Knox worked to rewrite the department's policies and procedures, getting the agency accredited before she retired in early October.

No complaints have been filed against the police department citing incidents after the new city manager and police chief took office in 2004, Jesse said.

One former officer's labor lawsuit against the city, and its police department, is still pending. Carl Freeman, who was fired in 2003, after he allegedly urinated into a pond in a Fayette County theme park, has refused a settlement offer, Johnson said.

The city filed for summary judgment last week, and expects to get a ruling from a federal judge sometime early next year, said Johnson.

Johnson said it is not yet clear how much the city spent in the two lawsuits. In addition to the $95,000 settlement in 2004, it has spent about $40,000 in insurance money, but lawyers' fees have not all been calculated. The cost could run to more than $90,000.