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Ongoing civil lawsuit accuses Carter County Commissioners of employment discrimination

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
Gavel in court room

An ongoing civil lawsuit filed early last year has brought discrimination and retaliation claims against the Board of Carter County Commissioners. 

According to court documents, Neal Whitaker, a former employee under the commissioners, is claiming that he was subjected to discrimination based on his age and political association. If true, these allegations would constitute a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. 

The documents state that Whitaker was hired within District 2 in 2004 and later transferred to District 1 in 2012. 

Whitaker alleges that throughout his employment he was subjected to discriminatory comments regarding his age, and cites many occasions on which Commissioner Joe David McReynolds allegedly made comments about needing younger employees in front of him. 

According to court documents, Whitaker reportedly felt that these comments were of an ageist nature, and states that he was allegedly subjected to “slurs, insults, jokes, ridicule and intimidation” from his co-workers during his employment with the commissioner. 

In Oct. 2018, Whitaker was allegedly approached by Commissioner McReynolds and asked why he had planned to help another individual campaign against him during the 2016 election. 

The documents allege that the commissioner continued to question Whitaker regarding his differing political affiliation, and allegedly told him it was “probably not a good idea” to help his friend campaign against him in the next election. 

Whitaker claims that the division over political issues continued into 2019. On April 2, 2019, Whitaker reportedly received a termination letter stating that his services were no longer needed.

The documents accuse the commissioner of retaliating against Whitaker due to his political beliefs and claim that his beliefs were a substantial factor in his termination. 

In a motion for summary judgement filed on Jan. 12, 2021, Commissioner McReynolds disputes these claims, stating that he has run unopposed in each of the elections he has participated in and has changed political affiliations himself after discussing the same with Whitaker. 

The documents further claim that the alleged political discussions Whitaker refers to were too far removed in time from the termination of his employment to be retaliatory. McReyonlds also claims that age was not a factor in Whitaker’s termination. Since McReynolds took office in 2015, he has reportedly hired 12 employees, nine of whom were in their 40, 50, or 60s. 

Commissioner McReyonlds is also close in age to Whitaker, who is 54. The documents claim that Whitaker was terminated for “legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons,” stating that Whitaker was allegedly avoiding work and “did not pull his own weight.” 

The commissioner allegedly decided to terminate Whitaker after he missed a mandatory meeting to do a task he was not assigned on April 1, 2019. In the initial complaint, Whitaker claims that nothing was wrong with his work and that he had never been written up prior to his termination. 

Whitaker is seeking $100,000 in damages, but no settlement has been reached yet. U.S. District Judge John Heil, III has referred the case for a settlement conference and ordered Judge Steven Shreder to act as the settlement judge. The conference is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2021.