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Circuit Court Judge Karen Conrad upheld a motion to dismiss several portions of a civil case brought against the City of Milton and its mayor, Denny Jackson.
Former Milton city clerk/treasurer Shannon Hoskins filed the suit July 30, one week after she was fired as Milton’s city clerk/treasurer. In the suit, she alleged that the city and Jackson, who was named as an individual defendant, had fired her in violation of the Kentucky Whistleblower Act, that she suffered sex discrimination as an employee and defamation of character. The suit states that Jackson had accused her of dishonesty and embezzling funds from the city.
In September, Lexington attorney Charles Cole, retained to represent Jackson and the city by the Kentucky League of Cities, sought dismissal of the first count in her suit – the claim that the city violated the state Whistleblower Act. He also sought to have Jackson removed as an individual defendant in the case.
On Nov. 19, Conrad dismissed the first count with prejudice, meaning Hoskins’ attorneys may file an appeal within 30 days of Conrad’s decision. If no appeal is filed, Conrad’s decision will stand and Hoskins may not bring the “whistleblower” issue to court against the city in the future.
Conrad also upheld the motion to remove Jackson as a defendant in Count II, which alleges sex discrimination.
Conrad’s decision did not address Count III, the allegation of defamation.
The sex discrimination and defamation allegations against the city “are still on the table,” City Attorney Genon Hensley said Tuesday. But, Hensley is optimistic that the case won’t go very far.
“I don’t know how she has any proof that [Jackson defamed her],” Hensley said. “He denies that he said any of that, because she didn’t. She never embezzled any money, as far as we know.”
Additionally, Hoskins’ attorneys will have to prove that if Jackson, indeed, did make or publish such statements, that he did so knowing at the time that they were false, Hensley said.
A complaint alleging misconduct at city hall while Hoskins was employed there was made to state Auditor Crit Luellen’s office last summer and forwarded to the Kentucky State Police. However, Hensley said that complaint didn’t come from Jackson or any city employee.
Hensley said Hoskins’ complaint to the state Department of Labor regarding the whistleblower allegations also is ongoing. She said the case is moving slowly and is in the discovery phase. She said she expects Labor Cabinet officials investigating the complaint to seek depositions from Hoskins and Jackson in the matter.
Attempts to reach Hoskins’ attorney for comment on Conrad’s decision were unsuccessful by press time Tuesday.
Cole said Tuesday that he was satisfied with Conrad’s ruling.
“We definitely believe the court’s decision of dismissing the whistleblower allegations was correct, in accord with prior decisions of Kentucky courts,” he said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that the Kentucky Court of Appeals will confirm Judge Conrad’s decision regarding the Kentucky Whistleblower allegations.”
Under Kentucky law, it is illegal for state government agencies to terminate an employee who has “blown the whistle” on wrongdoing in his or her department.
In seeking dismissal of the complaint, Cole argued that the Milton is not a state agency, nor is it a “political subdivision” of the state, and therefore, the Whistleblower Act did not apply.
In the original suit, Hoskins said she was fired for reporting the city to the state Environmental Protection Agency for “not having a qualified individual in charge of the system,” and alleged a “lack of response” from Jackson when a boil water advisory was required following a waterline break earlier this year.