Additional complaints made against county road manager


Fred “Hal” Baggett in front of the Board of Supervisors at Monday’s meeting. (Photo by Faith Lifer, SDN)

By: 
Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

In addition to the recent lawsuit filed by a former county employee, Oktibbeha County Road Manager Fred “Hal” Baggett has a history of complaints in Oktibbeha County.

Attorney William Starks of Starks Law Firm sent the Board of Supervisors an email in May, informing the board he would represent an Oktibbeha employee regarding harassment in the workplace as well as retaliation to the claim.

The claim was brought forth by Superintendent of the Road Department Casey Harrison, who filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim against the county alleging discrimination.

The EEOC claim was later dismissed. Starks clarified the claim’s dismissal does not indicate a lack in validity.

“There are various reasons it could have been dismissed,” Starks said.

Starks could not clarify the form of discrimination for which Harrison filed the complaint.

According to the county, Harrison is a white male, and Starks describes Harrison as a middle-aged man.

“He’s worked for the county for a long time,” Starks said.

Following the complaint, Harrison did not seek an interview. However, the State Auditor’s office sought to interview Harrison.

At the time of the email in May, the state’s investigation had not yet been concluded.

Harrison contacted Starks due to being “subjected to continued harassment and threats of losing his job.”

Harrison claimed Baggett told him he was complaining like a “school girl,” referring to “panties.”

Harrison also claimed he had been threatened with losing his job with comments such as, “you are this close to being written up” and “I’m not going to even do the paperwork. I’m just going to terminate you.”

According to the email Starks wrote to the board, Baggett’s comments following the EEOC claim constitute a retaliation for filing the complaint as well as retaliation for Harrison’s cooperation with the State Auditor’s office.

In his email to the board, Starks wrote: “I am certain the Board of Supervisors’ policy is to cooperate with any investigation by the State Auditor, and not to discourage or intimidate employees into fearing for their jobs when interviewed.”

Starks also wrote: “If this retaliatory conduct continues or other adverse employment action is taken, it is our intention to pursue a lawsuit against Oktibbeha County on behalf of Mr. Harrison.”

To Stark’s knowledge, Harrison has not reported further harassment since May.

“We were happy with the response of the county,” Starks said. “They responded they would not tolerate work harassment.”

Harrison still works as superintendent of the road department.

“I think Mr. Harrison just wanted to be able to go to work and do his job and not be harassed by anyone who was there,” Starks said. “And I think that’s been taken care of.”

“If anything else happens, we’ll take care of that then,” Starks added.

JUSTIN DENSON LAWSUIT

Following Harrison’s complaint, Justin Denson, a former county employee, filed a lawsuit against Oktibbeha County and Baggett on July 7.

The Starkville Daily News previously reported the cause of the lawsuit was listed as race-based job discrimination.

In Denson’s court-filing, Denson alleges throughout his employment he had been subjected to racially-disparaging remarks related to his experience.

Denson is a 29-year-old black male who was formerly a sign technician for the road department.

Denson also claims, when he confronted District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams about Baggett threatening his job, Williams told Denson that Board President and District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer convinced both Williams and District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard to hire Baggett due to his race.

Denson, Williams, Trainer, Howard and Baggett are all black males.

“I didn’t base my hiring decision based on race at all,” Howard said. “I never base any of my hiring decisions based on race. My hiring decisions are based on experience and competency.”

Trainer had no comment other than to say it was an “unfortunate situation.”

Williams could not be reached for comment.

Both Vice President and District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery and District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller preferred other candidates for the county road manager position when the board voted on candidates.

Although, since Baggett’s hiring, Montgomery said he has had a positive working experience with him.

“He’s been good for our county, but at the same time, that day he wasn’t my first choice,” Montgomery said on hiring Baggett as road manager.

“I’ve worked well with Mr. Baggett,” Montgomery added.

Miller could not be reached for comment by press deadline on Thursday.

Regarding the claims, Montgomery was brief.

“I do respect all parties involved, but we can’t speak on them right now,” Montgomery said. “As this (lawsuit) progresses, so will the information we know.”

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