The former Georgia GOP chair is suing the state party

Georgia GOP Chairman John Padgett. (Bob Andres/AJC)

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

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Georgia GOP Chairman John Padgett. (Bob Andres/AJC)

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

The former head of the Georgia GOP filed a lawsuit this week demanding that the state party repay him for legal fees stemming from a former staffer’s racial discrimination complaint.

John Padgett wants the state party to pay him more than $230,000 for legal costs he said he incurred related to the lawsuit filed by Qiana Keith, a former Georgia GOP staffer who claimed co-workers had referred to her with a racial slur and humiliated her.

The state party paid more than $500,000 in 2017 to settle the lawsuit and racked up more than $1 million overall in legal costs.

Padgett, who led the party from 2013 to 2017, said in the complaint that he should be repaid the legal fees he tallied because he was named as an individual defendant in Keith’s lawsuit. A judge later dismissed the complaints against Padgett, letting stand the broader lawsuit against the party.

“It would be unjust to force Padgett solely to bear the burden of these legal fees, costs and expenses,” states the complaint, filed in Fulton County Superior Court.

The lawsuit added that Padgett could have repaid himself while he led the party but decided to reserve the funds “for political activities during that presidential election year (2016).”

The Georgia GOP said Padgett’s complaint is frivolous.

“The Georgia Republican Party has gone to great lengths to prevent the problems the party experienced when Padgett was the chairman,” said Brandon Moye, the state GOP’s executive director. “If this lawsuit is pursued, we believe it will become clear that Padgett’s recollection of these long-past events is wholly erroneous.”

Keith’s lawsuit claimed she was fired after complaining to her superiors about her co-workers’ behavior. She sought damages and lost wages under the federal Civil Rights Act.

The Georgia GOP’s attorney said in 2014 that Keith was fired for “consistently poor job performance.” But the party’s efforts to block the case in court were stymied by a March 2017 ruling by a federal judge that allowed a key part of the racial discrimination lawsuit to move forward.

The lawsuit contributed to the state GOP’s troubles attracting donors amid mounting legal bills at a time when Republicans were dominating at the ballot box. Padgett’s successor, John Watson, told grassroots organizers he had to rebuild confidence in the organization to stabilize a party that was mired in debt.

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