Saturday, December 01, 2007

Decision Raps Ackles' Discriminatory Actions

An administrative law judge's decision finding that the Marion County Coroner's office demoted and fired its Chief Deputy Coroner John Linehan on the basis of his race comes down hard on the actions of Coroner Kenneth Ackles and the employee he chose to replace Linehan as Chief Deputy Coroner, Alfarena Ballew. Dr. Ackles, a chiropractor by trade, had "an agenda of furthering the status of African-Americans through the Coroner's office" and a "preference for listening to African-Americans at the expense of others" said Arthur Liberty, the EEOC administrative law judge who rendered the 67-page decision. "Ms. Ballew clearly wished to take Mr. Linehan's place as chief deputy, and the evidence that she had an agenda of securing 'in-charge' positions for African-Americans is strong," Liberty said. "Ms. Ballew not only made remarks to that effect, but also took subsequent steps to follow through on her intention by hiring an African-American pathologist and staff and firing several non-African-American employees soon after taking charge," he added. Liberty determined that Ballew "had plans laid out for actions she intended to take as chief deputy weeks, if not months prior to her appointment to the position" based on documents found with her notes.

While Liberty found no direct evidence in the record to support Linehan's race discrimination claim, he found more than enough circumstantial evidence to support an inference of discrimination. The fact that Ackles told Linehan he wanted to hire more African-Americans in the office did not alone support a finding of discriminatory intent. However, when Ackles asked Linehan to remove current deputies to open up slots for African-Americans, Liberty said it raised "an inference Dr. Ackles' approach to his job as coroner specifically included furthering the status of African-Americans." Liberty noted in his decision that Ackles interfered with Linehan's management decisions concerning African-American employees while taking a hands-off approach when those decisions involved non-African-American employees. In particular, Liberty found that Ackles had repeatedly interfered with efforts by Linehan to discipline Ballew. Liberty also noted from the evidence that City-County Councilor Paul Bateman, a political associate of Ackles, regularly faxed names of African-Americans to Linehan, suggesting he hire them solely because of their race.

Particularly damning findings towards Ackles and Ballew are contained in the decision concerning their handling of ghost employment allegations against Linehan. "He knew, from the documents Mr. Linehan gave him, as well as from Mr. Linehan's annual disclosures from his written explanations, that Mr. Linehan was not double-dipping, but he did not act to dispel the allegations against his employee," Liberty said. "Shortly after Mr. Linehan's reprimand of Ms. Ballew, Dr. Ackles showed Mr. Linehan an anonymous letter that had been sent to members of the City-County Council, accusing Mr. Linehan of 'double dipping' and 'ghost employment' because he worked as a paramedic in addition to his chief deputy job," Liberty wrote. "Ms. Ballew admitted during the hearing that she drafted the letter and gave it to people who then sent this anonymous letter to the Council," he added. "Dr Ackles had been aware that Mr. Linehan worked as a paramedic at the hospital and agreed that employees of the Coroner's Office were permitted to have outside employment." "While Mr. Linehan was on vacation, the media ran several news stories on Mr. Linehan and the rumored investigation into the allegations of ghost employment," Liberty said. " He added, "In one story, Dr. Ackles stated that an investigation into the allegations was occurring and that the city-county's legal office was looking into it."

Within a month of Linehan's termination from the Coroner's Office, Ballew filled the position as Chief Deputy, although Liberty found she had been performing some of the functions of that job from the time Linehan was terminated. Liberty's decision is critical of the hiring process to replace Linehan. Although Dr. Ackles said the position was advertised, Liberty noted there was no documentary evidence to prove it. "Dr. Ackles was extremely vague and contradictory in his testimony about the job announcement and the selection process," Liberty opined. Ackles claimed there was only one applicant, but the interim Chief Deputy, Keith Conaway, testified that he asked to apply for the job but was told he had missed the application deadline. Conaway testified he spoke directly to Ackles about his interest in the job. He "provided no evidence to explain why the job was open for such a short time" Liberty said.

Liberty found that Ballew moved quickly against non-African-American employees after assuming her new job. Ballew forced out Doug Frank, who was also a firefighter, based upon a phony claim he couldn't hold both his firefighter job and deputy coroner position at the same time. Although Frank believed both he and an African-American employee, Keith Gill, who was also a firefighter, would both lose their jobs, Gill was allowed to stay on after Frank left. Ballew explained that nobody got back from her in the city's human resources office so she allowed Gill to stay on with the department. She also testified that a firefighter who served on the City-County Council had informed her that Gill could hold both jobs. Ballew fired another deputy coroner, April Hardwick, on a dubious claim she had lied about attempting to contact the relatives of a deceased person. Liberty noted that Hardwick rebutted Ballew's claims, but she offered no evidence during the hearing to refute Hardwick's testimony. Liberty also observed Ballew took no progressive action in disciplining Hardwick as had been afforded to Ballew's many disciplinary problems in the office.

Liberty's decision speaks at length to Ackles' and Ballew's handling of the termination of the contract for the forensic pathologists after Ballew took over as Chief Deputy and the fact that an African-American female, Dr. Joye Carter, was hired to take their place and that four African-American employees of the former contractor were offered jobs with the Coroner's Office, while all white employees of the former contractor were turned down for opportunities in the Coroner's Office. As I have previously disclosed, I am one of the attorneys representing Dr. Stephen Radentz and Dr. Michelle Catellier in a lawsuit against the Coroner's Office, alleging Ackles and Ballew terminated the contract because of their race and their desire to replace them with Dr. Joye Carter. Therefore, I will avoid discussing the findings with respect to the termination of their contract.

What this case boiled down to was one of credibility. Liberty's decision is highly critical of the credibility of both Ackles and Ballew. "Dr. Ackles' testimony was replete with contradictions and he was either unaware or had forgotten details about most events that took place in the Coroner's Office during his first two years in office," Liberty said. As a consequence, Liberty simply couldn't buy Ackles' explanation that he "lost confidence and trust in him" as a rational basis for terminating him for any reason other than because of Linehan's race. In another part of the decision, Liberty states, "Dr. Ackles' testimony contains a number of vague or contradictory statements, assertions and inferences." "He insists he fully informed himself of all the Offices policies and familiarized himself with the personnel files of all the employees, yet when questioned on policies and personnel situations, he did not know them, was surprised at specifics in the policies, did not recognize policies, and repeated over and over again that he was a new coroner and did not know a lot about how things were operated or handled," Liberty complained. At one point, Liberty noted that Ackles claimed he had supervised medical doctors for years in his practice as a chiropractor. "However, when pressed for clarification, it turned out that he had not supervised any M.D.s," Liberty said.

Finally, Liberty found that Ackles had been played by Ballew, although it didn't excuse his own actions. "The evidence shows that Ms. Ballew manipulated and concealed information from Dr. Ackles when she complained to him about Mr. Linehan," Liberty wrote. "Ms. Ballew's animus tainted his decision making process and directly influenced his decision to demote Mr. Linehan, and to then subsequently terminate him." "Combined with Dr. Ackles' own agenda of furthering the status of African-Americans through the Coroner's Office, his preference for listening to African-Americans at the expense of others, and his failure to take any independent action or steps to verify what he heard, it is not surprising that he fell prey to Ms. Ballew's manipulations." "Dr. Ackles had the responsibility, as coroner, to investigate allegations before acting, and he did not."

As I reported earlier, the decision orders the Marion County Coroner's office to pay nearly $430,000 to Linehan, including $160,000 in back pay and front pay, $200,000 in compensatory damages and more than $66,000 in attorney's fees. There are all kinds of juicy facts in the decision, which are sure to provide a lot of grist for the rumor mill. The Star's Rob Schneider is working on a story for the Sunday edition. He has a copy of the decision so look for his story tomorrow. Hopefully, the Star will post up a copy of the decision online for public viewing. In addition to his EEOC complaint, Linehan has filed a separate defamation lawsuit against the Coroner's Office for falsely accusing him of ghost employment, which is pending in Marion Superior Court.


Anonymous said...

It's too bad Frank and Hardwick,both two of the best deputies MCCO had seen in quite awhile weren't able to hire their own counsel and get financial compensation for their unjust dismissals as well.

Anonymous said...

Councilor Paul Bateman should be removed from the council, Hate is hate is hate and discrimination is discrimination.

Anonymous said...

How can one get a copy of the ruling to read all the details? Is there a link?

Sir Hailstone said...

Was there a part of the decision requiring Dr. Ackles and Ms. Ballew to offer Mr. Linehan's job back to him?

As I said in the other post, I hope you clean Dr. "Quackles" clock. This year with enough hard work and a good candidate we can get Ackles out of office and stop this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Now if we can start to get Brizzi out of office also...let's make it a clean sweep.

Anonymous said...

(...waiting on the Wilson defense. After all, Dr. A is black, and he's been maligned here, so, it only follows that...)

Anonymous said...

Why couldn't Frank and Hardwick both hire counsel?

And is Ballew still employed with the MCCO? And if so, why? I don't understand why this wouldn't be grounds for firing.

Anonymous said...

There already was a great candidate in Dr. Rick Lucht on the ballot last year. But the uneducated voters of Marion County saw a black democrat on the ballot and got stupid.

Mike Bowman said...

GREAT Writing AI !

I love to read your stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hardwick and Frank neither one had the financial means to hire counsel, nor the time/effort needed to fight Ackles like Linehan did. They simply took it in the chin from Ackles and moved on to other jobs, albeit less paying and not what they really wanted to do. Several other deputies also resigned prior to being forced out to avoid the whole Ackles/Ballew witchhunt altogether. The common denominator, they were all white.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for coming to the defense of Frank and Hardwick. Given the outcome of this case, perhaps there is a chance for them to seek retribution after all, should a smart, capable lawyer want to take their cases on contingency.

Congratulations to John Linehan. He is one of the best people I have ever met and I think of him as my second dad. He and his family have suffered so much because of this and I couldn't be happier for him. I am also sure that others who either currently have lawsuits pending or those that have considered it but couldn't file at the time, are extremely excited about this win. It pretty much blows the door wide open for them. Best of luck to John on the personal lawsuit.

Let all this mess be a strong lesson to the voting public: DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU CHECK A BOX! There is not a doubt in my mind that this would not have happened had the real acutal doctor, Lucht, been voted in. Then Linehan, Drs. Radentz and Catellier, Frank, and Hardwick would not have had to endure the suffering and stress this has caused.

And lastly, thank you for reporting the REAL story. Its about F***ING time the truth came out.