City Attorney Jep Rose said during Monday’s City Council regular meeting that the municipality has filed a response to a former municipal employee’s charge that she filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the municipality.
Rose made the statement after Councilman Reuben Blackwell asked Rose about the process and where the City of Rocky Mount is in relation to the complaint, within the bounds of what can be publicly shared.
Blackwell made the inquiry minutes after the former employee, Jacqueline Barnes, addressed the council during the public input phase of the council’s regular meeting.
Barnes, who is retired from working for the city, claims that Elton Daniels sought sexual gratification from her when he was the director of parks and recreation prior to being promoted to an assistant city manager position.
Barnes also claims that no disciplinary action was taken after she filed a complaint with the city.
Barnes also claims that Daniels began to retaliate against her for the complaint, passing her over for promotions, refusing to grant requests for expenses needed to run the parks and recreation department and keeping her listed as an interim manager.
During Monday’s meeting, Rose said Barnes’ allegations are part of the charge with the EEOC and part of a confidential proceeding whose outcome is pending.
Rose said that the municipality is awaiting a response from the EEOC.
The EEOC is the federal government’s watchdog against discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the workplace. According to the EEOC’s website, if the EEOC finds that discrimination has occurred, then the EEOC will try to settle the charge but if the EEOC is not successful, then the EEOC has the authority to file a lawsuit.
According to the EEOC’s website, when deciding to file a lawsuit, the EEOC considers several factors, such as the strength of the evidence, the issues in the case and the wider impact the lawsuit could have on the EEOC’s efforts to combat discrimination in the workplace.
During the public input period of City Council regular meetings, residents can sign up to address the seven-member panel for three minutes.
Barnes told the council Monday that in January 2019 she stood in the council chamber and spoke in support of a then-embattled City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.
At the time, Small-Toney had become a focus of much public scrutiny due to questions about the competency and lack of local residency of a major hire, then-Community and Business Development Director Landis Faulcon, and about departures of key municipal officials.
Barnes recalled having been proud at the time of Small-Toney, who is the first Black woman to serve as the administrative head of the city.
Barnes, who presently has to use a wheelchair to move about, told of now ironically being unable to stand and of regretting “every single word” she spoke about Small-Toney.
Barnes said she was sitting with a total understanding of what was allowed to happen to her, taken as a joke by some, misrepresented as a race thing by a few, invalidated by others and questioned by so many.
Both Barnes and Daniels are Black.
Barnes said of her allegations against Daniels, “Let me be clear, I am not the only one. I just happened to be the first to report it in 2019, but you all are already aware of that.
“Maybe if the white employee from parks and recreation will report him, you all will give it more credence,” Barnes said. “But I can understand why she may not. This city manager lied to my face and left me in the lion’s den—”
Mayor Sandy Roberson, who chairs council regular meetings, interjected and directed Barnes not to make allegations of a personal nature.
“OK, well, I was left in the lion’s den unaware and with no one caring what was happening to me in the process,” Barnes said.
Barnes made clear she believes if an investigation by a qualified third party had been conducted as recommended, then “none of us would be discussing this right now.”
“And many of the nights that I’ve had — and deep discussions that I’ve had with my husband and with my parents — would be a distant memory,” she said. “Or maybe if I were a woman of a different hue, things would have been handled much differently and much more responsibly.
“None of that matters now because we are here.”
A group of protesters was outside City Hall calling for the removal of both Small-Toney and Daniels.
Barnes said that everyone who sent emails, text messages and direct messages and who made phone calls were there.
She said that although they could not come into the council chamber, she should not have had to retire from a job she loved due to extra mental stress because someone chose to abuse his power and another one refused to exercise hers.
After the end of the public input period, Blackwell said the council, Roberson and Small-Toney have been respectful and have attempted to be open to the process of any allegation of wrongdoing by any member of the municipality.
Blackwell said as it relates to this issue, “several of us have had concerns about adherence to process when anyone feels their rights have been violated.”
Blackwell asked Rose to give an overview and let the council and the public know whether anything is awry at this point as far as the process is concerned.
Rose made clear that the city does not tolerate discrimination, harassment, bullying or retaliation against employees or applicants for employment and that the municipality has supporting equal employment opportunity policies in place.
Additionally, Rose said that each municipal employee is made aware of the policies while undergoing orientation after being hired and that the city periodically circulates reminders of the policies to the employees.
Rose also said that under the policies, employees are instructed to report alleged discrimination to the director of human resources and alleged harassment or bullying to the managers, supervisors or to the Human Resources Department.
Rose said that managers and supervisors are required to forward the complaint to human resources and that appropriate corrective action is taken if human resources determines that violations of the policies occurred.
“Based on what we have determined, the policies have been followed in this case,” he said.
Natasha Hampton, who was an assistant city manager until resigning in April, has said that she had encouraged Small-Toney to bring in an outside investigator because she did not believe the current human resources staff and director were equipped to investigate such allegations.