By Taylor Sisk
CHAPEL HILL â€“ Kerry Bigelow, one of two fired Town of Chapel Hill Public Works employees, now known as the â€œSanitation Two,â€ has filed a suit against the town. Heâ€™s asking for recovery of back pay and reinstatement to his former job.
Named in the suit are Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil, Deputy Town Manager Florentine Miller, Public Works Director Lance Norris and Human Resources Interim Director Frances Russell.
Also named is Lilly Langer, a Greenwood neighborhood resident who allegedly filed a complaint against Bigelow and his coworker Clyde Clark.
After an investigation by a private firm hired by the town, the two men were fired in October for alleged insubordinate behavior toward their supervisors, intimidating behavior toward supervisors and residents along their waste-collection route and failure to properly perform their duties.
Bigelow and Clark denied the charges and countered that they were dismissed in retaliation for grievances they filed with management that alleged unsafe working conditions and racial bias in job placements and promotions. Both Bigelow and Clark are black.
They also alleged that the town took action against them due to their efforts to organize town employees with the N.C. Public Service Workers Union-UE Local 150. The local branch of the NAACP and other community members took up their cause.
The men presented their cases in February to the townâ€™s Personnel Appeals Committee, comprised of Chapel Hill residents. The committee recommended against rehiring Bigelow and Clark and Stancil subsequently upheld those recommendations.
Meanwhile, Bigelow had filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in June of last year after being passed over for a promotion. He and Clark then filed complaints with the EEOC in November after they were fired.
A decision on Bigelowâ€™s first complaint was released on April 15, stating that there was insufficient evidence to establish he had been discriminated against and that he had 90 days in which to file a lawsuit based on his charges.
Bigelow filed a suit with the U.S. District Court on July 12. He then amended it last week, adding two defendants.
â€œI want justice done,â€ Bigelow said on Monday. â€œI was unjustly fired, and I want them to make it right.â€
Stancil said in a statement that when town employees are involved in a disciplinary action for any reason, the town offers an extensive process for review. In Bigelowâ€™s case, he said, that process included the opportunity for appeal at several levels.
â€œMr. Bigelow used every opportunity to appeal the termination,â€ Stancil said. â€œIn separate review processes, each appeal was denied, and the termination was upheld. I have no further comment except to assure the public that the personnel matter was conducted fairly and completely with the best interests of all employees and the public we serve.â€
The town has 21 days after receiving notification of the suit to respond.