Gadsden County faces numerous lawsuits

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By Pat Faherty

The term "lawsuit" nowadays, when heard locally, usually refers to the recent against filed against some Gadsden County government officials.

This racial discrimination lawsuit, which is moving forward in federal court and the allegations surrounding it are based on events leading up to the 2008 election, which have continued through early this month.

The Feb. 15 lawsuit alleges about 12 charges and contains both general and specific allegations of discriminatory activities directly by some Gadsden County government officials or influenced by Gadsden County government officials. And there are allegations of the mistreatment of black county employees.

The plaintiffs are Arkeba Bouie, a former county employee and James Southerland, a former county vendor. The defendants are County Administrator Johnny Williams, County Commissioner Douglas Croley and the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners.

Following a March 1 NAACP organized demonstration at the courthouse, the mass attendance of a county board meeting and continuing picketing; regional, state and national media picked up the story. And on March 17, Adodra Obi Nweze, president of the Florida NAACP, came to Quincy to speak out on the issue.

The event also attracted students protestors from FAMU.

But researching the Bouie-Southerland reveals that it is only one of only one of about half a dozen lawsuits pending against  Gadsden County. At least three of them allege racial discrimination during the plaintiffs' employment with the county.

About Aug. 30, 2010, Farnita Saunders and Wallisa Cobb sued the county through attorney Marie Mattox, particularly citing actions by Williams and Croley. That case is still pending. Saunders was director of community developmemt. Her suit states she was fired while on medical leave. It claims she was the victim of unlawful employment practices and "discrimination/retaliation.

Cobb worked in the community development department under Saunders at the time. The lawsuit claims she was subjected to "Croley's plan to systematically rid defendant's government of African Americans and she was a target of harassment by Johnny Williams."

On about Sept. 27, 2010,  former county facilities manager Spencer B. Bowens Sr. sued the county, also  through Mattox. His suit alleges he was a victim of racial discrimination that led to his termination. The outcome is still pending.

Vivian R. Howard, former management analyst with the county filed her lawsuit around Nov. 1, 2010, also using Mattox as her attorney. Her suit outlines similar events as the other plaintiffs and claims she was fired based on racial discrimination. The case is still pending.

Gadsden County is also facing a gender discrimination lawsuit filed through Mattox earlier this month by Denise Congleton, a former emergency medical technician.