Kilgore mail carrier wins discrimination lawsuit

Both the 1901 Harrison County Historical Courthouse and the Sam B. Hall Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse were busy with federal jury trials this week.

MARSHALL — A federal jury in Marshall has ruled in favor of a Kilgore mail carrier in her discrimination lawsuit, determining she was fired in November 2012 for reporting a black supervisor was mistreating white employees.

The mail carrier, Kimberly Cox, was awarded $250,000 in damages for mental and emotional distress.

"My client never wants to go through seven and a half months of not knowing what's going to happen to your job just because she told them there was a problem on the work room floor (that) you must take care of," Cox's attorney, Rebecca Fisher, told jurors.

"If something occurs that you believe is discrimination (whether age, gender or race), you are to report it to the chain of command," Fisher said. "She did what she thought was the right thing."

The civil rights employment case began Wednesday in Marshall.

Cox, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, filed the suit, claiming she was fired out of retaliation for reporting the black female supervisor was mistreating her white female counterparts, which created a hostile work environment.

Fisher said Cox received a series of disciplinary action after making allegations against Cynthia Freeman, who was hired as supervisor in 2012, following Cox's demotion to mail carrier.

"There was yelling and abuse to the white female employees," Fisher said.

She said Cox, a white female, repeatedly reported the allegations in August 2012 to then-Postmaster Joe McQuiston, who said he doesn't remember Cox's report.

Fisher said things took a turn for the worse for her client after she was injured on the job Aug. 21, 2012. During her mail route, Cox tripped over a curb and landed on her knee, shoulder and face.

An accident report was filed, and Cox was given limited duty based on her doctor's instructions.

After being off for three days, Cox returned to work where she was instructed to sit idle in a room for eight hours.

"She was ordered to not speak to anyone — to not even answer the phone," Fisher said.

Fisher said the postmaster had Cox investigated for allegedly violating her medical restrictions after learning she was at an estate sale loading items in her vehicle 10 days after her injury. It also was her day off.

"She could still stand, walk and lift (items) up to 20 pounds," Fisher said. "She could drive her own vehicle."

Cox was placed on emergency leave by the postmaster. Fisher argued that violated the postal service's policies.

"On Oct. 3, (2012), she was issued a termination, saying you're dishonest and you breached your medical restrictions," Fisher told the jury members, asking them to keep in mind that postal officials never attempted to determine if she had broken her medical restrictions. The termination became effective Nov. 15, 2012.

Fisher said her client believes the actions against her were because she complained that the black supervisor, Freeman, was mistreating the white female employees on her work floor.

U.S. Attorney Bradley Visosky, representing Kilgore's postmaster, said Cox never had any interaction with Freeman.

He said the postmaster ran the work room floor. "Only on Saturdays, when he was off, Cynthia Freeman would step in," Visosky said, adding that letter carriers were hardly in the office.

"Not once did you see that Cynthia Freeman ever disciplined Mrs. Cox," Visosky told jurors. "Not once did Mrs. Cox have a written complaint on Ms. Freeman. Not once did she file a union grievance. Mrs. Cox claims she reported it to (Postmaster) Joe McQuiston. (He) doesn't remember that happening. There's no record of it."

Visosky further noted that when Cox was injured on the job, Freeman was the one who responded to the accident and took her to the hospital and filed a claim.

He said the case was about greed.

Visosky said Cox had received a favorable ruling from the arbiter who decided there was no just cause in her termination and determined she return to work and be rewarded all lost wages and benefits.

"She got paid and returned to the postal service," Visosky said. "Til this very day, she's an employee of the U.S. Post Office as a letter carrier.

"Mrs. Cox was upset about the termination decision. She got what she wanted (in lost wages and benefits), and now she wants more."