12:27 p.m. 5/31: CLARIFIES Moen, Farmer dropped as codefendants
A former Clayton County Sheriff’s services clerk who is a disabled veteran has won a federal employment discrimination suit against former sheriff Victor Hill.
A jury found on May 19 that CCSO both discriminated against and retaliated against Brittani Williams under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hill had ordered her termination in 2019, even before the results of a fit-for-duty test he had required. Initial codefendants included Captain Richard Moen, Chief Clerk Derrick Farmer, and Clayton County. However, Moen and Farmer were dropped as defendants last year, later testifying as witnesses. The suit was retitled Williams v. Allen because Hill was removed from office after the suit had been filed. The case number is 1:20-cv-00186-JPB.
In January 2018, according to her amended complaint, “Williams requested and received intermittent FMLA leave for leave necessitated by her PTSD symptoms, including severe
headaches, debilitating anxiety, and panic attacks.” She asked not to work any night shifts and to limit contact with male strangers as accommodations.
According to court papers, Williams was a correctional officer from July 2012 until April 2015, then “took a voluntary demotion” to the sheriff’s clerk position.
Williams had been switched from the records day shift (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to the warrants evening shift (2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.), which her Veterans Administration doctor wrote in a letter could aggravate her PTSD because she would be outside in the dark: “recent changes in [Ms. Williams’] work duties, i.e., working after sunset and/or alone in the office while interacting with strangers and the general public, is likely to increase overall stress level and may need to be considered in regards to supporting this veteran’s gainful employment.”
According to Williams’ attorneys, “Her immediate supervisors were all willing to work with her, and one gentleman volunteered to escort her to her vehicle in the evening. However, when former Sheriff Victor Hill was informed of the request, he wrote ‘do a fit for duty status and release from employment.'” He also required the VA to fill out paperwork.
Clayton County Human Resources Director Pamela Ambles testified that she had “urged Hill to seek accommodations for Ms. Williams under the [Americans for Disabilities Act] rather than subjecting her to the ‘fitness for duty’ process,” according to a press release from Radford and Keebaugh, the firm representing Williams.
On June 19, 2019, Williams took—and passed—the fit-for-duty test. Two days later, Hill posted an disciplinary announcement: “Today, Clerk Brittany [sic] Williams has been placed on administrative leave without pay pending the outcome of an investigation concerning unprofessional work appearance and insubordination.”
CCSO Chief Clerk Derrick Farmer, according to the amended complaint, “conducted an investigation of Ms. Williams’ alleged unprofessional work appearance and insubordination. Farmer prepared a formal investigative report in which he alleged, falsely, that Ms. Williams came to work with ‘bright red’ hair on June 21, 2019, and that by doing so, she violated the CCSO’s ‘personal hygiene’ policy. Farmer’s investigative report concluded that Ms. Williams’ alleged policy violation amounted to ’cause for dismissal’ under the CCSO’s disciplinary policies.”
On June 26, 2019, Farmer submitted his report to Hill and Captain Richard Moen, and issued Williams a disciplinary memo for allegedly violating CCSO hygiene policy. In that memo, Farmer referred to Williams’ “requests for accommodations,” writing that “some of the requests are not reasonable to accommodate and therefore pose a problem for the Sheriff’s Office.” Two days later, she was terminated.
Moen also referred to Williams’ accommodation request in his termination letter to her:
Williams’ attorneys argued that several non-disabled employees who had colored or bleached their hair had not been disciplined, and that Williams had dyed her hair brown.
According to Williams’ attorneys, several of Williams’ supervisors “testified that she was a high-performing employee, and that it was no burden to escort her to her vehicle. The witnesses described a heavy-handed, top-down leadership style from former Sheriff Hill, in which people were afraid to make recommendations regarding employment issues for fear of retribution.”
Hill did not testify in person, as the trial took place the day after he reported to federal prison in Forrest City, AR, where he is serving 18 months for violating the civil rights of six pretrial detainees, under color of law, for strapping them into jailhouse restraint chairs as punishment and without cause.
However, he did testify via video deposition, according to court records.
MAY 16: Jury Selection; Voir Dire; Jury Trial Begun. Jury was Sworn. The Rule of Sequestration was invoked. The Court discussed proposed voir dire with counsel. The Court GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART Defendant’s  Motion Concerning Objections to Certain Questions and Exhibits Associated with the Evidentiary Deposition of Former Sheriff Victor Hill. Parties conducted voir dire and argued motions for cause. Eight jurors were selected via silent strike. Jurors were sworn. Parties invoked the Rule of Sequestration. Counsel presented opening arguments. Plaintiff-witness Brittani Williams testified.
MAY 17: Plaintiff-witness resumed and completed her testimony. Richard Moen, Pamela Ambles and Derrick Farmer testified.
MAY 18: Plaintiff’s witness Tyrentheus Ray testified. Plaintiff rested. The Court heard argument on Defendant’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. The Court denied the motion. The Court discussed and amended parties’ proposed jury instructions and verdict forms. Defendant’s witnesses Rayjaunda Hardnett and Levon Hill testified and Victor Hill’s testimony was admitted via video deposition. Defendant rested. Parties presented closing statements. Jurors charged and begun deliberations.
MAY 19: The Court convened to answer a juror question. Verdict announced in favor of Plaintiff. The Court ordered Plaintiff to file a motion for equitable relief within fourteen days; Defendant’s response is due seven days thereafter and the reply brief is due three days after.
The jury found in favor of Williams, with Judge J.P. Boulee ordering Sheriff Levon Allen to pay her “$202,811.96, plus costs and interest at the legal rate from the date of this judgment
to the date payment is made in full.”
Williams’ lead counsel, Regan Keebaugh, said in a press release that “This was a hard fought case in which the Sheriff’s Office filed numerous motions to try and prevent a jury from ever hearing the evidence. We fought many battles along the way, from her unemployment benefits appeal all the way through to this trial.”
Partner James Radford added, “It was an honor to represent this veteran. Hearing the jury’s verdict was such a proud moment, and it makes the long hours and stress of trial worth it.”
The law firm of Freeman Mathis Gary represented the defense.