Kennesaw prevails in offensive email case

The city of Kennesaw prevailed Monday in a lawsuit filed by four white employees who claimed they were unfairly disciplined over offensive emails.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a lower-court judge’s decision to dismiss the case, which was filed in 2010 by two police officers and two 911 center workers. The court found the white plaintiffs did not present sufficient proof of discrimination and failed to show that similarly situated African-American and Hispanic employees received more favorable treatment.

The four white employees were among almost two dozen city employees found to have violated a policy against city-issued email accounts being used for inappropriate purposes, such as racial harassment.

In 2009, the city had been sued for racial harassment by two African-Americans in the public works department and a former public works employee who was born in Korea. Their lawsuit alleged that city email accounts were being used to send racially offensive messages. The case was settled for $1.8 million.

After that suit was filed, the city audited employee emails and found 23 employees violated the email policy more than five times. They included 20 whites, two blacks and one Hispanic. All received or were scheduled to receive discipline, although one of the two black employees and the Hispanic employee were on leave of absence at the time and did not return to work for the city, the 11th Circuit ruling said.

Four of the 20 whites subsequently filed a suit claiming unequal treatment. The plaintiffs were police officers Scott Lewis, who received a 10-day suspension, and Scott Luther, who received a three-day suspension; and 911 employees Susan Power and Linda Johnson, both of whom received five-day suspensions.

The 11th Circuit noted that Lewis received the punishment he did because the majority of his emails were racially and sexually offensive, including some that were pornographic.

The 11th Circuit said it was “entirely reasonable” for Kennesaw to establish its email policy. The court also found that the city’s audit was race neutral and that there was no compelling link between the race discrimination lawsuit filed in 2009 and the discipline the four white city employees received.

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