Former employee files discrimination lawsuit against county, road manager


Staff Writer

A former Oktibbeha County employee has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county.

Court documents show 29-year-old Justin Denson, the former employee, filed a lawsuit against the county and County Road Manager Fred “Hal” Baggett on July 7.

In a case summary, the cause for the suit was listed as race-based job discrimination.

According to the complaint, Denson alleges he was suspended and later terminated from his role as a sign technician and was accused of working too many hours.

He then in the court filing said that throughout his employment, he had been subjected to racially-disparaging remarks related to his appearance.

“Fred Hal Bagget, Supervisor, is responsible for the action taken against me,” Denson said in the complaint. “Throughout my employment, F. Baggett repeatedly stated that I look like a thug, carry myself like a thug, look like I have rats in my home, and I’m a disgrace to the black race because of my dreadlocks and beard.”

Denson is represented by attorneys Robert Nicholas Norris and Louis H. Watson Jr. from the Jackson based Watson & Norris, PLLC. The summary also listed the case as being in federal jurisdiction filed in the United States District Court Southern District Court of Mississippi. District Judge Henry T. Wingate was listed as the presiding Judge and Magistrate Judge Linda R. Anderson was listed as the referral. A summons was issued to Baggett the day the suit was filed and was returned executed Thursday.

District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery, District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard and District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams could not be reached for comment.

Then on Aug. 29, the complaint states that Baggett told Denson “I don’t like your appearance or dreads, especially the beard, I can only imagine what white people think of you because you look hideous and repulsive. You look like a black savage Viking.”

On Nov. 3, Denson was suspended for two weeks and was informed by Baggett that he “had too many hours.”

Denson then contacted County Administrator Emily Garrard, who then told him to file an appeal to the suspension, but asked him if he would consider changing his appearance. Denson claims his appearance is such because of religious reasons.

She then asked Denson if he could prove he belongs to a church, to which he responded that he could.

Shortly thereafter, Denson contacted Garrard again, who then informed him that all of the supervisors agreed with Baggett’s decision to terminate him on Nov. 13.

The complaint said Denson confronted Williams about feeling that Baggett had threatened his job, to which Williams responded that Board President Orlando Trainer had convinced him and Howard, who are both African American, to hire Baggett as the county road supervisor, despite knowing Baggett had been fired from two other counties and had previously been sued.

Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors attorney Rob Roberson said the case had been sent to the county’s insurance provider for review, a process all potentially expensive litigation filed against the county goes through. Roberson also said he was not extremely familiar with the case due to the recent filing and the events leading to the suit transpiring prior to him serving as board attorney.

“I’m not certain of much more than they’ve alleged in their petition,” Roberson said.

District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said she was contacted about the suit by a citizen on July 30, and contacted another supervisor who said they were also told about the suit by a citizen. She also contacted Roberson, who at the time said he had not seen the paperwork

“We have not discussed this,” Miller said. “It has not been presented to the board of supervisors.”

Miller said the lawsuit was one of several Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claims filed against the county.

“This is one of the employees that filed one,” Miller said.

Miller also confirmed Denson was no longer employed by the county and said he had served as a sign technician when he was.

Board President and District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer said the issue was a personnel matter and declined to comment further than saying the board would serve the county’s best interests wen dealing with the suit.