A federal lawsuit has been filed against Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway, claiming discrimination against a white employee.

The lawsuit, filed on October 27 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, charges racial discrimination and a hostile work environment.

Sgt. Curtis McCune, a 62-year-old white man, is an employee of the sheriff’s office, working in the jail. McCune claimed he and another jail employee were called into the office by a supervisor on June 30, 2021, for an infraction. McCune was disciplined while the other employee, a black female, was not, he claims.

“During the meeting, [the supervisor] began yelling at Plaintiff and caused Plaintiff to have a serious medical incident wherein Plaintiff had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Scott Morro, said this is one of several suits he has filed on behalf of a sheriff’s office employee.

“As I’ve done these in federal court, it’s not illegal to be an incompetent, bad supervisor,” Morro said. “I think that’s a lot that has to do with it, is the sheriff’s department is just incompetent. And along with being in charge and being incompetent, you get a lot of power, and they’re wielding their power against people that they don’t like or are not in their clique. Unfortunately, the people in power are African American, and they’re surrounded by African Americans, and the decisions they make are in favor of those that are African American. So, the whites view it as racism.”

Morro said he isn’t sure if the issue is racism or favoritism to those the sheriff and other leaders within the sheriff’s office are close to.

“They’re doing nothing about it,” said Morro. “They’re just protecting their friends … I think the sheriff is just incompetent, and the people who are working for him are incompetent.”

In the lawsuit, McCune claims that he has suffered mentally, emotionally and physically due to unfair punishment.

“Plaintiff has suffered embarrassment, humiliation, shame, damage to reputation, mental distress, emotional distress, emotional and physical pain and anguish and lost wages because of Defendant’s unlawful conduct,” the lawsuit states. “The actions of the Defendant have caused the Plaintiff financial loss, emotional distress, and a contracted quality of life.”

Morro said his client has also suffered through a “severely hostile discriminatory work environment at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.” He said discriminatory behavior against white employees is nothing new.

“The Defendant has a habit and/or practice of allowing and condoning discrimination based on race and of retaliation,” the lawsuit claims.

Three other deputies came forward ahead of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s election, in which Pettway won re-election, with complaints. Deputy Cody Christeson said he believes many problems with the sheriff's office are rooted in racial tension. Deputies Clint Bowden and Dawn Corbett said they had witnessed many issues that impacted the safety of deputies and the community.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office responded to a media request saying it cannot comment on pending cases.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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