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Cleveland settles lawsuit city worker filed complaining about working conditions, violations of free-speech rights

August 17, 2018

Cleveland settles lawsuit city worker filed complaining about working conditions, violations of free-speech rights

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The city of Cleveland has agreed to pay $128,500 to settle a lawsuit with an employee who sued over working conditions at the Ridge Road garbage transfer station and city policies that she said violated her free speech rights. 

Crystal Jones, a construction operator at the transfer station, sued in federal court in February, contesting policies that forbid employees from talking with the media and restricted use of social media. 

In a settlement approved this week by U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver, the city agreed to pay $128,500 -- $75,670 to Jones and $52,870 to her lawyers, the Chandra Law Firm -- and agreed to other terms.  

Under terms of the settlement, the city does not admit to any wrongdoing. Cleveland had denied Jones’ allegations when the suit was filed. 

“We and our client are pleased that Ms. Jones, a long-time city employee, will be able to speak without fear about matters she knows well, working day in and day out at the city’s waste transfer station, which are also matters of interest to the public,” attorney Sandhya Gupta said in a statement. “The monetary settlement also helps put behind her other events she alleged in her lawsuit.”   

Law Director Barbara Langhenry confirmed the suit had been settled. The city had no other immediate comment. Cleveland has a general policy of not discussing litigation. 

In her suit, Jones said she feared retaliation if she publicized workplace issues, including: 

Problems with raccoons, feral cats and rats getting into the office space at the transfer station and in some cases dropping through the ceiling and attacking workers.  Exposure to dangerous and toxic materials, including asbestos, chemicals and animal carcasses.  Other conditions that threaten worker health and safety, including inadequate ventilation that causes workers to be exposed to airborne toxins.  

“Because the city’s speech restrictions threaten employees with disciplinary action, any reasonable person would be reluctant to put her job in jeopardy by publicly disclosing information of public concern,” the lawsuit said. “Only now, after securing legal counsel, has she concluded that she may safely communicate this information publicly without compromising her livelihood.”  

Jones also contended she was subjected to sexual harassment, race-based abuse and denied privileges that male co-workers enjoyed. After raising her concerns and complaints to supervisors, she was subjected to retaliation, her suit claimed. 

In addition to paying Jones and her lawyers, the city agreed to review its policies governing use of social media and a 2006 memo that barred employees from having contact with the media. 

The city also agreed to review the working conditions at the Ridge Road Transfer Station and to send the current superintendent at the transfer station, who was not involved in the case, to sexual harassment training to raise awareness of the issue. 

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