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Former Greene Co. Courthouse Employee Files Civil Suit Against County
Updated August 2, 2013 6:06 AM
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(BLOOMFIELD) - A former courthouse maintenance supervisor has filed a civil suit against his former employer, Greene County, alleging that he was fired for U.S. Constitution First Amendment political affiliation discrimination.

Nick Schneider, of the Greene County Daily World reports, Tim Carpenter, of Bloomfield, who was terminated May 17, filed suit in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana at Terre Haute on July 8.

The 6 1/2 page complaint, filed by the John H. Haskin and Ryan P. Sink, of the Indianapolis law firm of John H. Haskin and Associates, demands a jury trial and named Greene County, Ind. as the lone defendant.

No court date has been set.

The court did grant the defendants ---- Greene County ---- a 28 day extension to respond to the complaint to Aug. 30.

Greene County Commissioner's Attorney Marilyn Hartman said this kind of extension is common in civil cases of this nature.

She had no comment on the suit and stated that the three commissioners would also have no comments because the suit is active.

According to the suit, Carpenter began his employment with the county on June 16, 1998 as an assistant janitor. In May 2011, he was promoted to courthouse maintenance supervisor by a vote of the county commissioners.

Carpenter was not re-appointed to the supervisor's position in January, when the yearly appointments by the commissioners are traditionally made.

However, Carpenter did continue in the position until May, when he was terminated.

The suit states that Carpenter is a Democrat, who openly campaigned for the reelection of former commissioner's president Steve Lindsey.

The suit also states that he was promoted to the supervisor's job under the board of commissioners that consisted of Lindsey, Kermit Holtsclaw ---- both Democrats ---- and Republican Rick Graves.

Lindsey was defeated in the Nov. 2012 General Election by Republican Nathan Abrams. Holtsclaw, who did not seek reelection, was replaced by Republican Ed Michael.

The suit alleges the political discrimination charge stems from a series of events that started in January when the county commissioners did not re-appoint Carpenter and sought applicants for his position.

Four people applied initially ---- including Carpenter ---- but two individuals withdrew their names.

Current Taylor Township Trustee Chuck Crouch, a former county highway department employee, who has sued the county for political discrimination, was the other applicant for the supervisor's position.

Crouch is a Republican.

The suit alleges that on Feb. 22. Michael emailed Abrams and stated, "I do like Chuck and would like to see him with the job, but I'm afraid in the long run, we'll wish we had left well enough alone. On the otherhand, if we don't (hire him) we'll take heat from the party as well as from Chuck. I'm not particularly a fan of Tim's, but I do hate to replace someone who is doing a decent job because of politics."

Carpenter and Crouch were both interviewed on Feb. 12.

No decisions were immediately made and Carpenter continued to perform his daily duties.

In April, Abrams allegedly met with Carpenter and advised him about certain 'cleaning issues' in the county building.

The suit states that Carpenter took steps to remedy or address the issues raised by Abrams, however, he was terminated in mid-May.

Carpenter was replaced by Tim Barker, who is a Republican, in action taken by the three-member all Republican Board of Commissioners, the suit states.

The suit alleges that Carpenter was fired because of his political affiliation.

"If Carpenter would have been a Republican, the defendant (Greene County) would not have terminated or failed to rehire him," according to the suit.

The suit further states, "Defendant (Greene County), acting under the color of law and pursuant to municipal policy, practice and/or custom, terminated Carpenter because of Carpenter's affiliation with the Democrat Party and his support of Steve Lindsey."

Carpenter seeks all legal remedies available under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, including injunctive relief, reinstatement, front pay in lieu of reinstatement, lost wages/back pay, lost benefits, compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering and harm to his reputation.

The suit asks the court to grant damages for medical expense as well as attorney's fees and costs.

The actual actions taken by Abrams and Michael on how Carpenter's termination was handled came under the scrutiny of the Indiana Public Access Counselor in May after a complaint was filed by Bloomfield resident Michael Johnson.

The complaint alleged that the meeting with Carpenter and two of the three commissioners constituted an illegal executive session meeting.

The alleged 'closed door' meeting was conducted in courthouse maintenance office.

In his complaint, Johnson noted the meeting did fall within the exemptions to hold an executive session meeting, but alleged that the meeting was not properly advertised and no public notice was given prior to the meeting.

Johnson also charged that an earlier meeting was likely conducted prior to the meeting with Carpenter ---- a violation of the Indiana Open Door Law.

Public Access Counselor Joseph B. Hoage, in a four-page advisory opinion dated June 13, concluded that the Board of Commissioners could not hold an administrative function meeting in order to terminate an employee.

"As applicable here, had a sole member of the Board (of Commissioners) informed the supervisor of the termination, no violation of the Open Door Law would occur as a majority of the governing body would not have been present. As a majority of the board was present, it is my opinion that it acted contrary to the requirements of the Open Door Law by failing to provide proper notice of the meeting ... There has been no allegation that the board failed to comply with any other requirements of the Open Door Law as it relates to the May 17, 2013 meeting," Hoage wrote.

The Greene County Commissioners on Tuesday morning ratified Carpenter's termination at a regular meeting on May 17.

Carpenter's termination was earlier carried out by Commissioner Abrams and Commissioner Michael.

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