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Coalition supporting fired officer to attend Lilburn council meeting

LILBURN - A coalition of several church members who support the reinstatement of a fired Lilburn police officer will attend the Lilburn City Council meeting on Monday.

The organization, consisting of about four Lilburn church congregations and the Gwinnett chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, plans to ask the city to rehire former Sgt. Jorge Portalatin and give him back pay.

The group believes Portalatin, who is Puerto Rican, was treated more harshly than white officers who had more severe violations of policy, said pastor Erven Kimble of Central Baptist Church in Lilburn.

Monday's meeting will be the first regularly scheduled City Council meeting since a ruling by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in favor of Portalatin was made public in October. The EEOC found Portalatin was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliation against him for speaking out about it.

"I think the issue here is mayor and City Council don't seem to be very responsive to the injustices that are pretty apparent to everybody else," said Kimble, who is also

Portalatin's pastor.

Portalatin has said he wants his job back, but negotiations with the city are still under way, said his attorney Joan Crumpler.

According to a determination made by the EEOC on Sept. 30, Portalatin was one of three applicants gunning for a lieutenant position. Portalatin was clearly "better qualified than the selectee," who was non-Hispanic, but he was not promoted, according to the determination made by the EEOC on Sept. 30.

Lilburn officials violated federal law by passing over Portalatin because of his national origin and retaliating against him for complaining about discrimination, the ruling stated.

The EEOC also found that harassment continued after the initial complaint was filed.

Portalatin received a written reprimand on Feb. 5 for an incident which occurred Oct. 10, 2004 at RBC Centura Bank. Portalatin was exonerated of the accusation by a supervisor, but Chief Ron Houck issued him a written reprimand. Portalatin filed a second EEOC charge of discrimination in February. He was subsequently suspended and fired on March 9.

The EEOC is still investigating two other employee complaints against the Lilburn Police Department. Another Hispanic former officer, Loxie Sanders, alleged racial discrimination and harassment when he was fired for missing a day of firearms instruction at the training academy. A department supervisor, Lt. Rob Worley, claims he received a negative performance review in retaliation for supporting Portalatin.

City Manager Tom Combiths said they have not discussed any settlement with Portalatin, but if an offer is made the city will consider it. Combiths disputed the allegations of discrimination within the Lilburn Police Department.

"There is certainly nothing in the city's history that would indicate any pattern of racial discrimination," Combiths said. "I think the opposite of that, the city has made an effort to attract and retain a diverse work force."