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Two lawsuits filed against Lawrenceville

LAWRENCEVILLE - A city employee is suing Lawrenceville, claiming officials retaliated against him after he exposed fraud in two city departments.

In the federal lawsuit filed last week in Atlanta, John Calvin Doster, a long-time foreman in the city's Electrical Department, alleges he warned Mayor Bobby Sikes that supervisors in two departments were abusing the city's comp time policies.

Afterward, Doster alleges he suffered a pattern of petty harassment and abuse, culminating in Sikes taking away his ability to drive a city-owned truck.

With his driving privileges revoked, Doster could no longer travel to job sites to supervise workers or respond to after-hours emergencies, costing him about $10,000 in overtime, the 18-page lawsuit alleges.

Doster, who wants a jury trial, is seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages. He also wants his full driving privileges reinstated and for the city to pay his court costs and attorney fees.

The city has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit, and attempts to get a comment from city officials were unsuccessful. City Attorney Anthony Powell is unavailable this week, and a message left with a fellow attorney who also handles city business was not returned.

An attorney for Doster - William Atkins, with Parks, Chesin & Walbert in Atlanta - also did not return phone calls left Tuesday and Wednesday at his office.

Doster, of Gainesville, has worked 20 years for the city's Electrical Department, the past 16 years as a foreman supervising other power line workers.

In 2004, Doster claims he learned that supervisors in the city's Street and Shop departments were taking credit for compensatory time when their subordinates, rather than the supervisors themselves, worked extra hours.

The supervisors used the wrongly accrued comp time to take days off - a practice Doster learned of when workers in the two departments complained to him, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit does not name the supervisors, but it claims the practice hurt employee morale, which prompted Doster to inform Mayor Bobby Sikes. A private meeting in Sikes' office ended abruptly when City Clerk Bob Baroni entered the room and accused Doster of lying, according to the lawsuit.

Afterward, Doster said he was punished for blowing the whistle on the comp-time abuse when officials took away his city-owned truck.

Throughout his career, Lawrenceville had provided Doster a truck, enabling him to routinely respond to emergency calls outside normal work hours and earn overtime, as well as visit job sites during normal work hours and supervise power line workers.

Doster received few complaints about his driving and his privileges were never suspended or revoked prior to the meeting with Sikes. But following it, unidentified persons began making complaints to the city about Doster's driving and he was disciplined, according to the lawsuit.

On one particular occasion, Doster claims someone used electrical tape to cover part of the license plate on his city truck while it was at the fenced-in Electrical Department parking lot.

When Doster left work that afternoon, a Lawrenceville police officer immediately pulled him over and issued a citation for driving with an altered tag.

Within days, acting at the direction of Sikes, a city manager suspended Doster's driving privileges, causing him to lose overtime and prestige with fellow employees, and also hampering his day-to-day job duties, according to the lawsuit.

Doster claims employees implicated in the comp-time abuse set him up by placing the tape over his license plate, with Sikes having knowledge and acquiescing to the action.

The lawsuit also says that within two months of Doster telling Sikes about the comp-time abuse, the city took action to prevent further abuses of its compensatory time policies in the Street and Shop departments.

The lawsuit does not say whether the unnamed supervisors or any other employees were disciplined for abusing comp time.

Second lawsuit

Another lawsuit pending in District Court also involves the city Street Department.

Jorge L. Alvarez is suing the city and Street Department Director Tommy McDaniel, both individually and in his official capacity, for racial discrimination. In court papers the city disputes his claims and maintains the case is without merit.

Alvarez who is of Cuban descent, claims he was assaulted by his boss, McDaniel, on several occasions, with McDaniel choking, punching and slapping him. Alvarez also claims McDaniel locked him in a bathroom, stepped on his feet, threatened him and cursed his Cuban heritage.

Alvarez, a laborer, claims he feared losing his job if he reported the abuse, some of which allegedly occurred in front of other employees.

In January 2004 Alvarez injured his right wrist when two white co-workers violated department policy and refused to help him perform certain job duties, according to the lawsuit.

When Alvarez returned to work nine months later and requested reasonable accommodations until his wrist fully healed, he learned he was being replaced by a white male and transferred to the Sanitation Department - a job more likely to exacerbate his wrist injury, according to the lawsuit.

When Alvarez questioned McDaniel about the transfer, Alvarez claims his boss threw him against a wall, squeezed his fingers and put his hands around his neck and told him to kneel down and beg for his job. The lawsuit also alleges Alvarez's right wrist was re-injured when McDaniel grabbed, twisted and pulled on it.

Alvarez quit that day. Nearly one year later he filed suit in District Court after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reviewed his complaints and gave him the green light to sue for racial discrimination.

Alvarez claims McDaniel treated him differently than other employees because of his race, and that the city is liable because it should have known of the alleged actions since some happened in front of other workers.

Alvarez is seeking unspecified monetary damages, courts costs, attorney fees and lost pay.

A message left with an attorney hired by the city's insurance company to defend the case was not returned, nor was a message left with Alvarez's attorney.

In court papers, the city says Alvarez would have been subject to disciplinary actions despite any alleged civil rights violations. Furthermore, any "adverse employment action" against him was taken based on business necessity, the city claims.

It also alleges Alvarez's employment constituted a direct threat to other workers and the public.