Former Grand Ledge employee sues the city after racist remark

Rachel Greco
Lansing State Journal

EATON COUNTY - A former Grand Ledge city employee who said he suffered retaliation after he reported a racist comment made to him by his supervisor has filed a lawsuit against the city and several staff members.

The lawsuit was filed by Jeff Mitchner, 59, in Eaton County Circuit Court Monday. It names the city of Grand Ledge, Public Works Superintendent Victor Rose, Public Works Supervisor Nick DiOrio and Assistant City Administrator Amee King as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges the city and all three staff members violated Michigan's Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act

Mitchner, a part-time employee with the city’s Public Service Department who left his job in October, said DiOrio, who was then his supervisor, used a racial slur on June 26 while both were working on a city project. Mitchner is black.

Mitchner said DiOrio made the comment at a city garage while both men were discussing work that needed to be done that day at the city’s new splash pad, which is under construction in Jaycee Park.

Mitchner said DiOrio told him and another Public Service Department employee while assigning a project, “I don’t need you guys to go down there and (n-word)-rig it.”

Mitchner said he reported the comment the next day to Assistant City Administrator Amee King.

Jeff Mitchner

Two weeks later, on July 11, Public Works Superintendent Victor Rose called Mitchner into a meeting with DiOrio and tried to “bully” him into dropping the claim, Mitchner said.

According to the lawsuit during the meeting, "Defendant Rose then pointed his finger at Plaintiff Mitchner and threatened that 'If you let those people get you to pursue this and something happens to his job, that’s on you, not on him.'”

Mitchner's hours "were cut, and only restored after a grievance was filed," according to the lawsuit, in a "blatantly apparent act of retaliation."

Messages were left with DiOrio, King and Rose Monday afternoon seeking comment. All three are still employed with the city.

Monday Mitchner said, in the months after his hours were restored, he received written notices twice for being tardy. One notice was given to him five weeks after the day he'd arrived late to work, he said.


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"I felt like they were coming up with stuff," Mitchner said. He left the job in October because he "just couldn't work there anymore."

According to the lawsuit, Mitchner’s "work environment became so hostile that Plaintiff’s mental, physical, and emotional health began to deteriorate, including, but not limited to headaches, loss of sleep, anxiety, paranoia, mood swings, bouts of depression, and anger."

Grand Ledge City Administrator Adam Smith didn't immediately respond to an email and phone message left seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Grand Ledge Mayor Thom Soule didn't immediately return a message left Monday afternoon.

Steve Haney, Mitchner's attorney, said the lawsuit is about "justice."

"Nobody in this day and age should be subjected to that kind of language," Haney said.

"Efforts of resolving the matter through counsel for the City of Grand Ledge were unsuccessful, as their official position was that nothing about the racial incident was discriminatory in nature," Haney said in a statement issued Monday afternoon.

“The City of Grand Ledge should be ashamed it has endorsed this conduct and ventured back to a dark time in our history when such racially vile words were commonplace and accepted by some….we are sending a message we do not agree.”

Contact Reporter Rachel Greco at (517) 528-2075 or rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.