A former deputy manager filed a federal lawsuit contending Durham County Manager Wendell Davis retaliated against her after she competed against him for the county manager position.
But a county response to Marqueta Welton’s accusations requests a dismissal of the lawsuit, saying her relationship with Davis had soured before she alleged race, age and sex discrimination.
Welton may be frustrated after she was demoted as part of a countywide reorganization, the filings states, but as an “at will” employee she had no guaranteed role in Davis’ management structure.
“Plaintiff’s disappointment with her employment path is a bad fit for a body of law directed at weeding out purposeful discrimination in employers’ personnel decisions,” states the county response filed last month. “Instead, her complaint makes plain an obvious alternative explanation for the outcome: deterioration in her relationship with her supervisor long before plaintiff tried to inject race, sex, or age into the equation.”
In March, Welton filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina against Davis, Durham County, the Board of Commissioners and Human Resources Director Kathy Everett-Perry.
Welton’s attorney, Hayes Hofler, declined to comment. Welton has until July 7 to respond to the county’s motion to dismiss her lawsuit.
Davis also declined to comment, along with Bradley Risinger, who is representing the county.
The lawsuit claims the defendants violated Welton’s First and 14th Amendment rights and a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. It also claims fraud, defamation and infliction of emotional distress.
But Durham County response says Welton’s claims fail to meet legal standards and, further, that elected and appointed county officials acting in their official capacities are immune to such claims.
Durham County’s filings also note that Davis is African American and that three of the five people appointed to management positions were African American and four were women.
Welton started as director of Human Resources in December 2005. She was promoted to deputy county manager by then County Manager Mike Ruffin in June 2011. Ruffin retired in January 2014.
The tension stems from a moment when Davis and Welton were final two finalists in the search for the next Durham Count manager, Welton’s lawsuit states.
During the final round of interviews in January 2014, Davis suggested Welton drop out because he understood she had been “a reluctant applicant,” it states.
Initially Welton, then a deputy county manager, refused, but she later reluctantly withdrew her name “to preserve county unity,” her lawsuit states.
After Davis was appointed county manager, he immediately retaliated against Welton “by publicly humiliating her, demoting her to a low-level position, cutting her pay in half and requiring her to perform onerous tasks intended to overwhelm her,” Welton’s lawsuit states.
In April 2016, Davis notified Welton he was moving her to a newly created position of economic development officer under a county employee reorganization. Her $172,214 salary was cut in half.
He also asked her to work in the Criminal Justice Resource Center building, “in which primary activities included drug testing, electronic monitoring, re-entry training and probation services,” the lawsuit states.
Under the strain of the retaliation and the demotion, Welton took medical leave in September, her lawsuit states. She left the county in December.