City sued for discrimination

By Jessica Overstreet
Staff Writer
Posted 7/13/07

DAPHNE — A woman on Monday filed a civil lawsuit claiming discrimination and sexual harassment against the City of Daphne and its employees.

Maria Nicholson, a Daphne Police Department employee, is suing for sexual harassment, Title Seven …

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City sued for discrimination


DAPHNE — A woman on Monday filed a civil lawsuit claiming discrimination and sexual harassment against the City of Daphne and its employees.

Maria Nicholson, a Daphne Police Department employee, is suing for sexual harassment, Title Seven violations and negligent management and outrage, according to a 44-page complaint.

The defendants are the City of Daphne; Mayor Fred Small; Council President Greg Burnam; Councilwoman Regina Landry; Human Resources Director Sharon Cureton; Recreation Department Director David McKelroy; Debbie White; Mary Jensen; police Chief David Carpenter; police Capt. Daniel Bell; and John Doe, a Daphne police officer.

The claims — and responses

•Burnam — whom Nicholson accused of sexual harassment — allegedly suggested that she join him at a bar for drinks and had continually made advances toward her, according to the complaint.

Nicholson alleged the defendants had retaliated against her for exposing Burnam’s sexual advances and discriminatory work conditions.

Burnam denied all allegations in an interview Thursday.

“Every bit of that concerning Greg Burnam is untrue,” he said.

•Prior to her public safety position, Nicholson — a city employee since 1994 — worked at the Recreation Department, where she alleged that coworkers and supervisors contributed to a hostile work place, spreading racial, offensive comments.

“No comments at this time, until we have time to talk to the lawyers,” McKelroy said.

White, an administrative assistant at the Recreation Department, also said she had no comment.

Jensen, the Senior Center coordinator, was unavailable at press time.

•Nicholson also alleged that McKelroy, Bell, Burnam and Landry, with Small’s and Cureton’s knowledge, acted to prevent her from continuing her job at the Recreation Department. She was terminated from that position in October of 2005 when Small in a letter dismissed her from the job.

Small was unavailable at press time but City Attorney Jay Ross said the city was well within its rights to relieve Nicholson of her duties.

“The state law and city policy requires the mayor to be in charge of all day-to-day activities; and the mayor has the right to discipline as he sees fit,” Ross said.

Nicholson appealed the action and an extended hearing had been brought before the City Council, which decided on a lesser punishment.

She had been on administrative leave from October 2005 to March 2006, according to the complaint, which said she was allowed to return to work after undergoing psychological testing. She had been transferred to the Daphne Police Department, where she kept the same salary.

•Nicholson alleged that she made several reports to Cureton about racial and sexual harassment, intimidation and threats, but she said Cureton ignored her.

Nicholson also said that while on suspension, Cureton fought to deprive her of unemployment benefits.

Cureton on Wednesday said she could not comment on such claims.

“Any information that I give out I have to get approval from the mayor’s office,” Cureton said.

•Nicholson’s attorney, A.J. Cooper, said the defendants had intentionally denied Nicholson her rights because she is a black female.

Nicholson alleged that coworkers with less experience and fewer responsibilities received pay raises while she did not, though she received favorable evaluations and she said she was never reprimanded.

Landry was unavailable for comment on the allegation at press time.

•Bell, in civilian clothing, though carrying a badge and a gun, interrogated Nicholson in his car at her mother’s house, she said in the complaint.

“It’s not the first time someone tried to sue a police officer for doing his job and it won’t be the last time. That’s why I don’t put a lot into that frivolous stuff,” Bell said in an interview Thursday.

“The police are involved because we were just doing our job,” Carpenter said. “We’ll defend it — the police department did nothing wrong.”

“We are shocked at all of the allegations she has made,” Ross said. “There are no facts to support the allegations that any of these persons should be personally liable.”

Nicholson said Wednesday that she could not comment on the case, but Cooper said he knows his client’s intentions.

“The bottom line is we want the city to establish policies and guidelines to make sure no other woman or minority has to go through this,” Cooper said, adding he was unprepared to discuss such suggested actions.

“We want her restored to former job duties; back-pay; pay for the medical (psychiatric) treatment she had to undergo; damages for harm; and seek the amount of money we are able to prove in court based on expert witnesses and evidence,” Cooper said.

“When you have worked for over a decade and you have been recognized for many accomplishments, you think, ‘Why should I go somewhere else? I have a right to be right where I am,’ ” Cooper said.

“The city tried very hard to be fair with Maria; council and administrative staff tried very hard to be fair with her,” Ross said.

“I feel very confident that the city will win,” he said.