A former Hopkinsville-Christian County Emergency Communications Center employee recently filed a legal complaint alleging she was unlawfully fired twice and harassed during her time at the department.
Sonia M. Graham of Oak Grove also accused her higher-ups at the ECC of consistently ignoring her reports of policy violations.
She is suing the City of Hopkinsville, the ECC board of directors and several ECC employees for racial discrimination, sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation, wrongful termination, falsification of business records, tort of outrage and punitive damages.
Graham was hired by the ECC as a telecommunications officer in July 2009. In the following months, Graham said she reported multiple breeches of ECC employee protocol to her superiors and to board member Livy Leavell. Those reports were ignored and, as a result, her superiors became hostile toward her, according to the complaint.
In another instance, while off duty, Graham said she called the communications center to report an unlawful activity. The dispatchers ignored and refused to process her call, she said.
On May 24, 2010, Graham filed an official complaint with ECC director Judy Toombs accusing assistant director Joann Cowherd and shift supervisor Charis Ford of making racially derogatory and sexually offense comments about her, the complaint states. Neither Cowherd nor Ford were reprimanded, Graham said. She states the conduct bred emotional “anxiety, stress, humiliation and depression.”
Graham was fired three days later on reasons of “workplace violence, insubordination, improper conduct and lack of courtesy, uniform and conduct of personnel,” according to the suit.
Graham said in the complaint she had scored in the 96th percentile on her curriculum tests and received “nothing but favorable comments and ratings on her daily observation reports during her training period.”
After writing a grievance and giving an oral testimony to the ECC board, Graham was reinstated by the department and continued working for the ECC for two months. During her second term with the department, Graham filed two written complaints after she was denied her preferable work schedule. Those complaints were ignored, Graham alleges.
Again, on Dec. 29, 2010, the ECC board terminated Graham during a closed session meeting. Graham was not informed of the board’s decision and was made aware of it through a local television station, according to the complaint. Graham filed a second grievance to the ECC board, but was denied.
Graham is seeking compensatory damages due to lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, attorney fees and other relief. She also wants to be reinstated to her position at the ECC.
Leavell told the New Era on March 6 that the board denies Graham’s accusations and that she was terminated with cause for creating a hostile environment. Because the suit is pending, Leavell wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the complaint but said Graham’s claims that he ignored her reports of policy violations were “an absolute lie.”
Toombs and Hopkinsville Police Chief Guy Howie chose not to comment on the lawsuit. Howie is an ECC board member.
Graham’s attorney, Kenneth W. Humphries, could not be reached for comment.
The ECC board is comprised of Howie, Leavell, Hopkinsville Fire Chief Fagan Pace and Chris Patterson. The lawsuit is also levied against Christian County, the City of Hopkinsville, Toombs, Cowherd and ECC supervisors Toni Majors, Stephanie Noel, Sarah Drennan, Kathee Delany and Ford.
Benjamin Joubert is a reporter for The Kentucky New Era. Reach Benjamin at 270-887-3240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.