The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 8, 2013

Lawsuit filed: Suit in federal court alleges city, employee discrimination

Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The owner of a demolition firm has filed a civil discrimination lawsuit in federal court against the city of Enid.

In the suit, Leonard Jackson, who is black, claims the city and former code official Toby Pritchett violated federal statutes against race-based discrimination, harassment, interference with ability to enter into contracts and retaliation.

The lawsuit states Jackson’s Wrecking has contracted with the city of Enid since 1980 for demolition services. Jackson then claims since Pritchett was placed in charge of the code office, the city began denying his bids, regardless of whether they were the lowest cost submitted.

The bids instead went to a local company owned and operated by whites, the lawsuit states.

City Attorney Andrea Chism declined to comment on the lawsuit and said the Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group has assigned legal representation to the city and Pritchett.

Jackson also said Pritchett has used racial slurs in his presence — including the N-word — and one time called police “because he heard some ‘spooks’ were taking things from the church, in reference to Mr. Jackson’s employees,” the lawsuit states.  

Jackson said he reported the incident to City Manager Eric Benson, but that no action was taken.

Pritchett was relocated from the code office to the safety office earlier this year, before the lawsuit was filed. Benson said Thursday that Pritchett was relocated to bolster the safety department because of staff shortages, and to reward his efforts as code administrator.

“I needed his talents in a department that was severely strapped for personnel, with the maturity and employee respect necessary to continue the success of a department that was recognized by the Department of Labor as the best in the state,” Benson said. “I will not allow safety to be diminished, and Toby is essential to that end.”

Finally, in November last year, the city reportedly sent Jackson a letter informing him he was no longer eligible to receive city contracts because he had left debris at a demolition site.

That job was at 221 W. Oklahoma in November 2010, two years before Jackson got the letter. According to the filing, Pritchett had signed off on the post-demolition inspection. However, Jackson denies he buried trash and debris because there were similar structures around the site that were later demolished by someone else.

He received $2,600 for the work, he said.  

The city eventually cleared the offending debris from that site and charged Jackson more than $13,000 to cover the bill, the lawsuit states.

Because of the allegations he performs work improperly, Jackson said he has lost business and his company is no longer operational.

Jackson’s son solely owns and operates Jackson’s Wrecking and Demolition in Enid, which he says is a separate company from the one named in the lawsuit.

Jackson filed the lawsuit on Sept. 27. Legal counsel for the city has yet to file a response with the U.S. District Court of Western Oklahoma.

The suit also alleges defamation and a violation of equal protection against both Pritchett and the city. Pritchett is singularly alleged to have interfered with contractual relationships and violated substantive due process.