Trial begins for discrimination lawsuit against City of Hattiesburg

Trial begins for discrimination lawsuit against City of Hattiesburg
A South Mississippi grand jury indicted four Pine Belt residents for their alleged roles in a multi-million dollar scheme. (Photo source: Raycom News Network)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A lawsuit accusing the City of Hattiesburg of racial harassment and discrimination went to trial Monday.

The jury was seated and heard opening arguments from attorneys representing the plaintiff and defendants. At least five witnesses, including former city Judge Jerry Evans, took the stand. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed by former Municipal Court clerk Dana Coleman in 2016, says Coleman suffered "severe and pervasive racial harassment and discrimination by her African American co-workers and supervisors because of her race" and was forced to resign her position in August 2016.

In the lawsuit, Coleman, a white woman, claims she was the only white employee in the Municipal Court office. She was hired as an office manager in January 2012.

During her time in the position, Coleman claims a pattern of racist and discriminatory behavior by employees and her supervisors caused her "emotional distress, anxiety, stress, pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life."

According to the lawsuit, other white employees were forced to quit their jobs because of a "hostile environment" and constant harassment from African American employees.

The suit alleges black employees would make racially derogatory comments aimed at their white counterparts, such as saying an employee was "too white" because of the way they dressed and the type of music they listened to.

Coleman claims an employee under her ignored orders and refused to speak to her. The suit claims Coleman reported the insubordination to her supervisor, Court Administrator Faye Hicks, and former mayor Johnny Dupree, but no action was taken against the employee.

The lawsuit also claims two African American employees attempted to get Coleman fired by falsely accusing her of removing files from court. Coleman said their actions were a breach of confidentiality and disclosure policies of the city and court, but the employees still went unpunished.

Coleman is suing for monetary damages for lost income, mental stress and anxiety.

A lawsuit is just one side of a legal argument.