Jackson County Counselor Stephen Nixon has settled a series of sexual harassment and discrimination complaints involving other county departments in recent years. Now he, too, is accused in a lawsuit of discriminating against a former employee, who says the county engages in biased treatment of women, particularly African-American women.
Attorney Tracey Chappell says she was fired last August from her job as senior assistant county counselor after filing a formal complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the suit.
A county spokeswoman said Wednesday it’s county policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Chappell joined the county counselor’s staff in April 2008, according to the lawsuit she filed recently in Jackson County Circuit Court. During the ensuing six years, the lawsuit says, Chappell was cross-trained to work in every department in the counselor’s office, “but her primary assignment was litigation.”
Her status changed when she returned from a three-month maternity leave in January 2015. Nixon gave her cases to other attorneys to handle and reassigned her to the mental health docket, which she saw as a demotion.
Chappell claims the new assignment was punishment for taking maternity leave. Making matters worse, she said, was that a white male attorney with less experience was promoted to become her boss when she returned to work.
Chappell, who is African-American, said her new supervisor micromanaged her work, and she was put on a nine-month performance improvement plan, despite never having a negative evaluation in the years before that.
After voicing her objections and filing a complaint, Chappell was fired.
Since 2011, county taxpayers have spent more than $2 million to settle employment discrimination suits before they went to trial or, in some cases, before lawsuits were even filed.
Nixon’s office handled all those cases, primarily involving the sheriff’s and assessment departments. Chappell’s suit is the first known to be aimed at the county counselor’s office.