A wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander will be seen by a jury. A ruling was made in federal court that dismisses many of the claims against Alexander, but also states that there is enough evidence of wrongful termination to go to court and let a jury decide.
The lawsuit involves former Perry County Fiscal Court employee, Jody Jones, who worked as head of maintenance for the courthouse. Testimony indicates that Jones was fired by Alexander on Alexander’s second day as judge executive. Jody Jones is the nephew of former Perry County Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble, who Alexander beat in the 2014 primary election on his way to claiming the office. The federal court received the task of determining whether or not Judge Alexander should stand trial for accusations that he fired Jones out of discrimination.
On May 11, U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves ruled that Jones had provided enough evidence for the case to go to trial. Judge Reeves also dismissed the Perry County Fiscal Court, as a whole, from its status as a defendant and dismissed many of the prosecution’s accusations.
Alexander pointed out to the federal court that he kept other employees, who had worked at the courthouse during the previous administration, and Judge Alexander denied firing Jones for political reasons in his testimony. In fact, Alexander testified that he did not know Jody Jones was Denny Ray Noble’s nephew on the day he sent Jones home. According to Alexander, Jones was fired because the county needed to save money and, at the time, the courthouse employed two maintenance workers. Thus he opted to create less strain on the budget by firing one of the maintenance personnel. Alexander claimed that he did not have any particular reason for choosing Jones instead of the other worker to let go, and Alexander also admitted that he did not take factors, such as qualifications, training and seniority into consideration when making the decision. With a master electrician license, a two-year degree in industrial maintenance and a refrigerant certification, Jones held more credentials and experience than his coworker, who remained on the job.
Judge Reeves heard testimony from Eric Harkins, who was Jones’s coworker at the time of his firing. Harkins testified that Alexander said, after firing Jones, he was planning to hire someone else to fill the position and, according to the testimony, he instructed Harkins to purchase two sets of any tools that might be needed to do the job. The county treasurer also testified that she was never told by Alexander to remove the position Jones had occupied from the county’s budget after he was fired.
In the ruling he handed down, which is sending this case to trial, U.S. District Judge Reeves outlined the factors he took into account when weighing his decision.
“A reasonable jury might conclude from this evidence that Alexander had another reason for firing the nephew of his political rival so quickly after he assumed office,” Judge Reeves wrote in regards to his ruling.
Judge Reeves said evidence indicates that the county needs more than one maintenance worker. According to the decision that was handed down by the court, Alexander replaced Eric Harkins when Harkins became injured and arranged for contract labor through a company that is owned by one of his supporters in the election.
Along with his ruling that evidence was adequate for Jones’s case to be heard by a jury, Reeves also ruled that the fiscal court, as a whole entity, was immune from Jones’s claims and that Alexander, as an individual, could claim immunity against some of Jones’s accusations, as well. Other charges presented to the court by Jones were dismissed due to a lack of adequate evidence to back up the claims. However, the ruling by Judge Reeves stands in favor of the wrongful termination case going before a jury, where a final verdict shall be delivered.
The amount of damages Jones is seeking remains unknown at this time. The trial begins June 27.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerad.