CONYERS - A federal court case involving the county and a former disgruntled employee, alleging a ‘hostile work environment’ and threats of ‘retaliation,’ has come to a close.
Erica Fatima, former director of the Public Affairs and Media Relations department in Rockdale, and the County, which included the county, Rockdale Board Chair and CEO Richard Oden, Post 1 County Commissioner Oz Nesbitt and former Post 2 County Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, settled the case out of court in May 29 for $115,000 to be awarded to Fatima.
The board was presented with an official settlement ratification document during the board’s work session Tuesday morning.
“This has been settled as of a couple months ago and finally put to bed,” said Rockdale Chief of Staff Gerald sanders.
Fatima was selected as the county’s finance director in April 2010 amid controversy and resigned in October 2011. In January 2012, she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which decided by February 2013 that it did not find a violation. In May 2013, Fatima filed a federal lawsuit against the Board of Commissioners, Oden, Oz Nesbitt and Van Ness.
In the opinion written by U.S. Northern Georgia District Magistrate Court Judge Clayton Scofield III for the settled case, the judge recommended the summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part for defendants, which included the county, Oden, Oz Nesbitt and Van Ness.
Scofield’s opinion states the record of conversations with court officials do not support Fatima’s claim that she was working in a racially and sexually hostile work environment. Also, his opinion states that none of the statements from Van Ness provided to the courts by Fatima constitute “direct evidence” of discrimination.
Fatima also alleged inappropriate comments were made by Nesbitt as well in relation to her being fired if she filed a hostile work environment complaint, but those were inadmissible to the court because Fatima didn’t state the alleged Nesbitt remarks in her Statement of Material Facts.
Also, the Nesbitt comments didn’t appear to made in a sexual context and allegedly occurred twice in one day which isn’t enough to “establish a hostile work environment based on sex,” according to the judge.
The judge did recommend denying the portion of the summary judgment that claims Oden threatened to fire Fatima if she filed an official complaint against Van Ness. According to the judge’s opinion, the threat came sometime in September 2011.
“In any event, the County has not shown through undisputed evidence that Chairman Oden’s threat occurred outside the limitations period, and there is no dispute that Chairman Oden had the authority to fire Plaintiff,” Scofield wrote. “Here, a reasonable jury could find that threatening Plaintiff with her job, coming as it did from the CEO of the County and Plaintiff’s direct supervisor, may well have dissuaded a reasonable person in Plaintiff’s position from filing a complaint against Commissioner Van Ness.”
The county argues that Fatima’s claim “makes little sense” because after she put in her two-week notice, Oden asked her to reconsider.
“But whether Chairman Oden actually asked Plaintiff ‘to reconsider’ is a disputed issue of fact, and, in any event, the issue of whether Plaintiff’s testimony ‘makes little sense’ is a credibility determination for the jury to make at trial,” wrote Scofield.
Calls and emails made to the defendant’s attorney, Michael Allen O’Quinn, and the plaintiff’s attorney, Rakesh Parekh, were not returned at press time.