Ex-employees sue Baker County sheriff for wrongful termination

Lawsuit claims dismissal was retaliation for backing sheriff's political rival

By Ashley Spicer - Reporter, anchor

MACCLENNY, Fla. - Two former employees are suing Baker County Sheriff Scotty Rhoden over allegations that they were fired in retaliation for backing Rhoden’s opponent when he ran for office two years ago.

Those allegations are contained within a 13-page wrongful termination lawsuit filed on behalf of Tina Barbour and Kim Munson in federal court in Jacksonville in February, court records show.

The lawsuit calls for the Sheriff’s Office to reinstate both women and award them back pay along with other compensation for enduring the public humiliation of being fired in front of their co-workers.

DOCUMENTS: Read through the employees' lawsuit

An attorney representing Rhoden has filed a four-page response denying the women’s terminations were politically-motivated. Attempts to reach the sheriff for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

The complaint states that Barbour and Munson campaigned for Rhoden’s opponent, Maj. Gerald Gonzalez, who retired after losing the 2016 election.

Despite pledging their support to Rhoden before he was sworn in, the women were notified Jan. 19, 2017, that their jobs were being cut for budgetary reasons. Both were escorted off the premises.

The suit goes on to say that Rhoden’s explanation for eliminating the women’s jobs was a “pretext to cover up the real reason” for their dismissal – their decision to campaign for Gonzalez before the election.

“Any ‘fiscal constraints’ at the department were illusory and a sham manufactured” by Rhoden to justify his retaliation against them, the complaint says.

Barbour, who is Gonzalez’s mother-in-law, worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 14 years. She was a human resources specialist making $34,000 at the time of her firing.

Munson, whose role was described as a records and data entry clerk, was making nearly $30,000 after seven years with the agency.

Attorney John Whitaker, who represents the women, did not respond to multiple requests for comment Friday afternoon.

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