Lawsuit alleges discrimination by BOCC

CHIPLEY – A Washington County employee has filed suit against the Board of County Commissioners, alleging that she was discriminated against for her gender and pregnancy.

Jessica Hawkins, the former County Administrative Assistant to County Administrator Jeff Massey and sister to Board of Commissioners Chairman Tray Hawkins, filed the suit Monday, May 17.

Hawkins states she discovered she was pregnant in September 2018 and was at risk for complications during what she called a difficult pregnancy. 

The complaint filed in Washington County civil court claims Hawkins was “continually and frequently harassed” for taking time off to attend doctor’s appointments and frequently yelled at, once “so violently” by Massey – according to the written complaint – that a county commissioner had to intervene.

The complaint further alleges other employees who were not pregnant were given raises and/or paid at a higher rate for less work and that positions were created and filled without being advertised or affording her an opportunity to apply. 

“[Hawkins] has been and continues to be subjected to disparate treatment, different terms and conditions of employment, and held to a different standard because of her gender and pregnancy,” wrote Hawkins’ attorney, Marie Mattox in the complaint.

“Throughout this time period, [Hawkins] was performing an inordinate amount of work. She was being paid less than almost every single person who worked in her department, yet she did more work than most of them combined … Just to fulfill the amount of work singularly performed by [Hawkins] on a regular basis, [the] Defendant needed to pull five people from their positions to perform [Hawkins’] duties while she was on maternity leave.”

Hawkins also claims that while she was out on maternity, a portion of her job duties were “removed and given to a male” who was paid more.

Attorneys for the Board of Commissioners have not yet been officially served with the lawsuit; however, William G. Warner of the Warner Law Firm in Panama City and Special Counsel to the County, did respond with a position statement during the course of the investigation by the EEOC, stating that no action was taken against Hawkins due to her pregnancy or gender.

“…Upon her return to work on June 17, 2019, [Hawkins] resumed the same duties at the same rate of pay she had prior to her leave,” Warner said in the position statement.

Warner went on to state that what Hawkins referred to as moving someone into an unadvertised position was merely the county’s “longstanding practice of reclassifying existing employees without advertising” and that the male she stated was given a portion of her duties actually filled the newly created position of Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) Coordinator, a position that was advertised and for which Hawkins did not apply. Warner continues in the position statement, saying that in reference to MSBU duties, Hawkins only prepared a monthly meeting agenda and took minutes, whereas the scope of duties for the MSBU Coordinator is much larger and complex.

“Ms. Hawkins was afforded all leave to which she was entitled,” concluded Warner. “Neither her material job duties nor her rate of pay were changed when she returned from leave.”

Hawkins is still a current employee of Washington County, working in the administrative offices.