Grand Ledge denies retaliating against employee for reporting racist remark

Rachel Greco
Lansing State Journal

GRAND LEDGE - Lawyers for the City of Grand Ledge and three city employees named in a lawsuit alleging a former city employee was retaliated against after reporting a racist comment by a city supervisor say the the slur was not directed at the employee.

Grand Ledge Public Works Supervisor Nick DiOrio did use a racial slur last June at a city garage while discussing work that needed to be done that day with Jeff Mitchner, who is black, and another employee, the city wrote in its response to Mitchner's lawsuit.

But the city and three employees named in the lawsuit — Public Works Superintendent Victor Rose, Assistant City Administrator Amee King and DiOrio — "adamantly deny it was directed at and/or told to" Mitchner.

Mitchner filed his lawsuit in November in Eaton County Circuit Court.

Mitchner is a former part-time employee with the city’s Public Service Department who left his job last October. He claims 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.” 

Jeff Mitchner

After Mitchner reported the comment to King he said his hours were cut. The house were later restored after he filed a grievance with his union. 

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

The city denies Rose attempted to coerce Mitchner "to retract his complaint" during a meeting with him and DiOrio last July.

According to the city's response: 

"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.'”

"The Defendants admit Defendant Rose, as per his typical practice, used hand gestures while speaking to (Mitchner); however, Defendant Rose adamantly denies pointing his finger at (Mitchner) and/or using his hand gestures in a threatening or aggressive manner." 

A message left Wednesday with Carlito Young, an attorney representing the city and employees named in the lawsuit, wasn't immediately returned.

Steve Haney, Mitchner's attorney, said Mitchner was subjected to a racist comment and retaliation after he reported DiOrio's comment.

"It did happen and people heard it," Haney said.

A copy of DiOrio's personnel records, obtained by the State Journal last fall, show he signed a "counseling statement" from Rose in July that read, in part, "Nick inappropriately used an offensive slang term while discussing an issue with an employee that was overhead by another employee that was offended by it."

"Nick was informed he must do better as a supervisor and based upon the discussion I am confident he will," Rose wrote. "His apology and obvious remorse convinced me of this."

Grand Ledge City Administrator Adam Smith declined to comment Wednesday. He didn't respond to questions about whether Rose, DiOrio or King are still employed with the city. All three are listed as employees on the city's website. 

A scheduling conference is scheduled in front of Eaton County Circuit Court Judge John Maurer on March 6.


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Contact Reporter Rachel Greco at rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.