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Dismissal of trustee suit asked

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bedford County and its trustee have filed a motion for summary judgment to end a federal suit brought by a former county employee.

In late 2010, Cynthia L. Ray filed a suit against the county and trustee Tonya Davis, claiming she had been fired for openly supporting Davis' opponent during that year's election.

She claims Davis and the county violated her 1st and 14th Amendment rights, state rights, fired her in retaliation for exercising her constitutional rights, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

Could be fired

But in documents filed in federal court last Friday, the county's attorney, W. Carl Spining, wrote that Ray's 1st Amendment rights were not violated, and that her job as business manager was a government position "where the employee could be terminated for political reasons, including political association."

Spining also said that Ray had failed to prove that Davis is not entitled to qualified immunity and has failed to prove a claim of municipal liability against the county, adding that the federal court should refuse to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims after dismissing the federal suit.

In a 16-page memorandum of law. Spining stated that because Ray's position fell under the patronage exception for public employees, "she could be terminated on account of her speech," citing three cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The memo also points out that other departments in Bedford County did not have "business managers," and that the position was unique to the trustee's office during Peggy Bush's terms.

Suit history

Ray had been employed in the Bedford County trustee's office from September 1986 until September 2010, also serving as office manager from approximately 1995 or 1996 until she lost her job.

However, the county and Davis have previously stated in their response that Ray was not "terminated." Davis had run for trustee in 2002 and 2006 but lost to Bush, whom Ray had openly supported in each election. Ray is Bush's daughter.

However, Bush did not run for reelection in 2010 and Ray openly campaigned for and spoke on behalf of Jason McGee, who was Davis' only opponent, the suit said.

Ray's suit details the active role in the campaign she took, and Davis won the primary over McGee 3,742 to 2,946, and ran unopposed in the August 2010 general election. Ray claimed that on the first day that Davis took office, she was told "that her services were no longer needed and that she was being terminated."

Spining has said that Davis told Ray that "her services were no longer needed at that time," denying the "termination" part of the allegation.

Ray claims that she was the only employee of the trustee's office who openly supported McGee during the election, was the only person fired by Davis when she took office, and Davis did not present any plan to reorganize the office, the suit also claims.

Ray is asking for a jury trial, plus damages for front pay, back pay, lost earning potential, lost benefits, unpaid vacation time, out of pocket expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, damage to reputation and related damages plus interest. She is also asking to be awarded punitive damages to be set by a jury.