CONYERS -- Attorneys for former county employee Holly Lafontaine announced they filed a lawsuit in federal court against Rockdale County and Commission Chairman Richard Oden alleging race discrimination and retaliation.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta, according to a press release from Lafontaine's attorneys, A. Lee Parks and Josh Capilouto.
The lawsuit brings three counts against Oden and the county surrounding the selection process that led to Erica Fatima being named as the county's director of Public Affairs and Media Relations in April and Lafontaine's release from her job last month.
The first count names Oden individually and alleges he selected Fatima, who is black, over Lafontaine, who is white, based on race.
Lafontaine had worked for Rockdale County for 15 years, including eight years in the Public Affairs Department. She served as interim director of Public Affairs and Media Relations from July 2009 through April following the departure of then-director Julie Mills.
Lafontaine applied for the director's position and was among the three finalists in March, along with Fatima and Lisa King, a public relations manager for an Atlanta information security firm and former press officer for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.
The selection process included interviews by a five-person panel. The lawsuit says three out of five panelists ranked Lafontaine higher than Fatima, and her overall score averaged among the panelists was higher.
At the time of her appointment by the county, Fatima had worked as deputy press secretary for the Georgia Department of Transportation since 2008. She also held several positions with the Rockdale County Public Schools before moving to GDOT, which included secretary-level positions for human relations and public relations departments in the schools' central offices and as a data entry clerk at Salem High School before moving to GDOT.
The lawsuit's second count concerned alleged retaliation against Lafontaine. The lawsuit states Lafontaine believed she had been the victim of discrimination prior to being relieved of her duties, and her lawyer had sent a letter to Oden and Rockdale County to explain a potential discrimination claim against them.
Six days later, Lafontaine was released from her job as deputy director of Public Affairs.
County officials at the time described her release as part of an overall work force reduction in an effort to narrow a revenue shortfall in the county's budget.
The third count of the lawsuit states the "defendants denied Lafontaine's constitutional right to equal protection of the law by deliberately discriminating against her in the terms and conditions of her employment" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Lafontaine is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages against Oden, full back pay and benefits of employment, front pay, prejudgment interest on all special and compensatory damages and attorney fees and expenses, according to the lawsuit.
An award is also sought for special damages for all out-of-pocket costs and expenses Lafontaine would not have incurred "but for defendants' unlawful discriminatory conduct," according to the lawsuit.
Rockdale County attorney Qader A. Baig on Monday did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Parks and Capilouto were unavailable, according to their office.