FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) – A former Washington County Road Department employee alleges in a federal lawsuit filed on Friday (April 17) that he was demoted and ultimately fired after saying he supported the county judge’s opponent in last November’s election.
Brandon Holland claims County Judge Marilyn Edwards is among those who violated his First Amendment freedom of speech right and other rights when he was demoted from primary bulldozer operator, a “position of relative prestige within the Road Department,” to a job with the tile crew “responsible for installing drain tiles along county roadways.”
He was also later ordered to work with the Sheriff’s Office and county jail inmates who likely would be picking up garbage along county roads and highways. That assignment, never given to any other Road Department employee, was “purely retaliatory,” according to the lawsuit.
Also named as defendants in federal civil suit are county Chief of Staff Dan Short, Road Superintendent Donnie Coleman and Assistant Road Superintendent Shawn Shrum. The suit was filed in the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Holland is being represented by Joshua Bailey and Bo Morton of the Morton Law Group in Fayetteville.
County Attorney Steve Zega said late Friday afternoon he had not seen the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.
This is the third federal lawsuit filed against the county since December by current and former employees. Road worker George Braswell filed a lawsuit in December, pointing to faulty bridge construction in the county, and former county employee Mandy Przysczpkowski sued the county in February, alleging she was retaliated against for supporting the judge’s 2014 campaign opponent.
The previous lawsuits have not been resolved. The Morton Law Group also is handing those lawsuits.
According to the latest lawsuit filed Friday, Jeff Williams, who was challenging Edwards in her re-election bid, visited the Road Department in September 2013 and spoke about his excitement over the 2014 election campaign and his plans for the county if elected.
A short time later, Shrum approached Holland at a high school football game and asked for his thoughts on Williams’ campaign for county judge, according to the lawsuit. When Holland said he intended to vote for Williams, Shrum became “visibly unhappy” and demanded to know why Holland wasn’t voting for Edwards. Holland responded by criticizing Edwards’ ability to “execute the duties of her office” effectively.
Edwards, a Democrat, won re-election in November, defeating Williams, a Republican then serving as county assessor, by 987 votes.
According to Holland’s lawsuit, Short said in a meeting on Dec. 1, 2014, that he would fire Holland if he refused to work with county jail inmates. When Holland “refused to be subjected to retaliation and harassment,” Short immediately fired him without seeking Holland’s side of the story or any explanation or background facts, the lawsuit states.
In January, Holland sent a letter to the county judge, explaining that he was retaliated against for expressing his political views. However, Edwards did not respond to the letter or investigate the matter, the lawsuit states.
Click here to read Holland’s lawsuit.