Former Lawrenceville PD captain accused of harassment files discrimination lawsuit

The lawsuit comes as former captain is running for sheriff in Morgan County; he claims he was targeted for speaking out about discrimination against white men.
Lawrenceville Police Captain Ryan Morgan, left, seen here as the department celebrated his retirement in December 2021. He's pictured with Major Myron Walker, right, the agency's assistant chief. Morgan informed the city of his decision to retire the night before he was set to be interviewed by an independent investigator looking into sexual harassment within the agency.

Credit: Facebook

Credit: Facebook

Lawrenceville Police Captain Ryan Morgan, left, seen here as the department celebrated his retirement in December 2021. He's pictured with Major Myron Walker, right, the agency's assistant chief. Morgan informed the city of his decision to retire the night before he was set to be interviewed by an independent investigator looking into sexual harassment within the agency.

When the highest-ranking female officer at the Lawrenceville police department accused Capt. Christopher Ryan Morgan of sexual harassment, he quietly submitted a resignation letter and left the agency in December 2021. Now, Morgan has filed a lawsuit claiming he was wrongly targeted and victimized by city leaders pushing a diversity agenda that discriminated against him and other white males in the police department.

In the complaint, which was filed in federal court in December, Morgan alleges that the city favored a white woman and a Black man over more qualified white men. He said when he spoke up, he was retaliated against and targeted in a sexual harassment investigation.

“My client’s absolutely right in opposing that,” said attorney Larry Pankey, who is representing Morgan. “It’s like ‘hey you can’t do this. This is wrong. You should be qualified, especially in the realm of public safety.’”

Morgan is now running for sheriff in Morgan County on a platform of protecting the county “from the Metro Atlanta crime wave that is quickly advancing our direction,” according to his website.

At the time he left Lawrenceville’s department, Morgan was the head of the criminal investigations division. His December 2021 resignation came amid an investigation accusing him of making inappropriate comments about Capt. Tawnya Gilovanni, the department’s first female command staff member. A 33-page investigative report commissioned by the city found that Morgan and the Police Chief Timothy Wallis had each harassed Gilovanni. The report concluded the agency had a “good ol’ boy” network that went back for years.

The sexual harassment problems became a public scandal in early 2022 after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the city’s investigation and its troubled police agency.

Wallis himself was also accused of creating a hostile work environment. He resigned in February 2022 and later claimed in a lawsuit that he was forced to do so over violating a directive from the City Manager Chuck Warbington not to speak to the media about the investigation.

According to the investigative report, Morgan told Gilovanni that her 2019 promotion was going to be “entertaining,” and she was “pretty to look at every day.” He also sometimes referred to her as “hooker” and asked her to send photos of her breasts to his cell phone, the document said.

In his complaint, Morgan combats much of what is written in the investigative report, as well as accounts from city leaders. He said after Gilovanni and Assistant Police Chief Myron Walker, a Black male, were promoted, morale in the police department diminished among the “more qualified, more experienced, White and male individuals” who were passed over for those positions.

The year before Gilovanni’s promotion, Walker, was recruited to the position of major where he also served as assistant police chief.

The complaint did not specify if Morgan took issue with Walker’s recruitment at the time, but said he complained to Wallis prior to Gilovanni’s promotion that she was not qualified for the job and was only being promoted because of her gender. He claimed in his lawsuit that Gilovanni decided to falsely accuse him of sexual harassment to get him fired after hearing about his complaints about her qualifications.

The complaint said Gilovanni herself “routinely engaged in lewd and unprofessional behavior, which actually invited sexual comments from others.” The document listsstatements Gilovanni allegedly made referencing her genitals.

“That’s the person who has these slight sensibilities that gets discriminated against or sexually harassed? Nonsense. She wasn’t sexually harassed. She used this as a weapon to get people fired. Men,” said Pankey, who in addition to Morgan is representing another former Lawrenceville officer in a similar lawsuit.

The complaint added that Gilovanni was not investigated for the comments she made.

While the city’s investigative report, dated Dec. 28, 2021, noted that Gilovanni admitted to some of the comments and stated she “can be just as vulgar as the guys,” it is not clear if Gilovanni’s statements were reported by anyone in the department prior to the investigation. Morgan’s attorney told the AJC the former captain did not report the comments he heard Gilovanni make.

Gilovanni was not able to be reached for this story. She resigned from her position with Lawrenceville police in June 2022 as part of a $300,000 settlement she reached with the city over her own discrimination complaint. According to Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) records, Gilovanni is not currently working in a sworn law enforcement position in the state.

Capt. Tawnya Gilovanni is the first woman to be named captain in the Lawrenceville Police Department.

Credit: Lawrenceville Police Department

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Credit: Lawrenceville Police Department

Morgan was slated to be interviewed for the sexual harassment investigation on Dec. 14, 2021 but informed city manager Warbington the day before that he would be retiring at the end of the month. He was never interviewed by the investigator.

According to his lawsuit, Morgan said he would “not hold back anything he knew” about the city, the police department, and other dynamics if he were to be interviewed.

“It was Warbington’s choice that (Morgan) decline to be interviewed,” the complaint said.

In his complaint, Morgan claims he was pushed to retire by Warbington, claiming the city manager told him the investigation was closing in on him and would result in him being fired. Pankey said when the 22-year police veteran learned his job was on the line, he opted to resign, thinking it would be easier for him to find another job without disciplinary action for sexual harassment in his employment history.

“He was terrified of losing his career and his ability to provide for his family, so he was put to resign,” Pankey said.

Morgan’s complaint claims that both Warbington and Mayor David Still accommodated his plans to retire, going as far as writing him recommendation letters. The AJC first reported on these letters in January 2022.

Both the mayor and the city manager previously told the AJC, at the time, they didn’t know what the investigation had uncovered. Both officials told the AJC the letters were never intended to be recommendation letters. The City of Lawrenceville declined to provide a comment on the matter for this story.

“Legal counsel for the City is still in the process of reviewing the complaint and the city will not comment on any specific allegations contained in the complaint,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Appropriate responses to all allegations will be contained in future legal filings by the City.”

Morgan could face a challenging climb to succeed in his lawsuit, according to legal experts. They said cases in which there was a resignation instead of a termination require proof that the conditions in the department were such that any reasonable person would’ve resigned. That’s a high bar to prove, according to Lorene Schaefer, an Atlanta-based attorney and human resources investigator with Win-Win HR.

“When someone resigns in Georgia, they obviously have not been wrongfully terminated,” she said. “So you have to prove what we call constructive discharge.”

She added that because Morgan resigned during a sexual harassment investigation, it isn’t clear that he would’ve been fired due to its findings.

Records from POST list Morgan as a reserve officer with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, effective Sept. 2022.


Our Reporting

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution started reporting on sexual harassment allegations at the Lawrenceville Police Department in January 2022. The AJC requested records from the city, which initially denied the existence of an internal investigation report. The AJC broke the story of the sexual harassment scandal and followed up with a report that showed how the city manager and mayor wrote reference letters for a police captain who was under investigation for harassment. The AJC continued to follow the story as it developed, resulting in a resignation, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, and two lawsuits. Anyone with information about harassment in Lawrenceville or any other metro Atlanta-area police department or city government can contact AJC reporter Asia Simone Burns (Asia.Burns@ajc.com or (404) 873-9022).

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