Officer's retaliation complaint upheld

LILBURN - A federal agency has upheld a Lilburn officer's claim that he was retaliated against for supporting another officer fired following accusations of racial discrimination.

A finding made public Wednesday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated it is likely former Chief Ron Houck lashed out against Lt. Rob Worley for testifying on behalf of the fired officer. The EEOC cited incidents including a performance evaluation lower than Worley's previous evaluations and changes in his job duties as evidence of the retaliation.

Worley, a 12-year veteran of the Lilburn Police Department, filed the complaint in July. Houck retired in January, and a new chief, John Davidson, was sworn in last week. A spokesman for Davidson referred personnel questions to City Manager Tom Combiths, but he could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Worley testified on behalf of Jorge Portalatin at a merit board hearing in April appealing Portalatin's termination. Portalatin, who is Puerto Rican, insisted he was passed over for a promotion and harassed for voicing concerns about racial discrimination in the department.

Despite Worley's testimony at the hearing, Portalatin's firing was upheld by the merit board and later, the Lilburn City Council. The EEOC issued a ruling agreeing with Portalatin's claims in September.

Attorneys for Portalatin are still holding discussions with the city of Lilburn in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

Portalatin was the first of two Hispanic Lilburn police officers to claim he had been discriminated against because of his race. An EEOC complaint filed in July by a fired police officer of Mexican descent, Loxie Sanders, is under investigation.

After the allegations surfaced, former police chief and public safety director Ron Houck announced his retirement in September. City officials claimed the decision to retire was not based on the departments' recent troubles, and Houck declined to be interviewed at the time.