Veteran deputy files lawsuit against Madison County Sheriff’s Office, claims he was punished for aiding colleague facing harassment

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- A new lawsuit has been filed against the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff, his then-chief deputy, and the Madison County Commission by a longtime deputy who claims he was punished for aiding a female colleague facing sexual harassment at work.

Deputy Gregory Gray, a veteran member of the office’s SWAT team, alleges he was discriminated against and faced retailiation for attempting to help then-Deputy Shelby Holt.

Holt has also sued claiming she was fired for reporting harassment by a supervisor.

That lawsuit alleges that Holt faced numerous instances of sexual harassment and that male deputies who engaged in a variety of  sexual misbehaviors did not face discipline. Gray’s lawsuit repeats those claims.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, contends that Gray had advised Holt -– while she was still employed -- to report the harassment to her supervisors, that he spoke to his colleagues about her situation and that he called a non-emergency number to get her assistance after she showed signs of distress.

“The retaliation and discrimination against Deputy Gray has had a chilling effect on employees of the Sheriff’s Dept. reporting and complaining about violations of the policies and procedures of the Sheriff’s Dept., Madison County, and the Commission; violations of Title VII protections; and, violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution – the Fourteenth Amendment,” the lawsuit argues.

“The retaliation and discrimination against Deputy Gray has sent a signal everyone else working in the Sheriff’s Dept. that if they complain about and report sexual harassment, discrimination based on sex, etc. that they will face some form of punishment and retaliation.”

The lawsuit alleges that in August 2016 -- the same day Holt hand-delivered a letter describing the harassment to Sheriff Blake Dorning, County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and county personnel and legal staff members -- Gray was placed on administrative leave. The lawsuit claims he was not given a reason for the paid leave.

Gray met with Dorning and the-Chief Deputy David Jernigan in early September 2016, the lawsuit claims, and was informed he was suspended for two weeks without pay, taken off the SWAT team indefinitely and was ordered to see a counselor before he would be allowed to return to work.

The lawsuit claims that decision was a violation of Gray’s civil rights and sheriff’s officials didn’t follow department policy in issuing the discipline.

Gray was the number two member of the SWAT team in terms of seniority, the lawsuit claims, but he has been working in the patrol division since he was suspended. The lawsuit claims he lost financial benefits, incurred costs and lost seniority for reporting the harassment of Holt.

Gray had 11 years on the SWAT team, the lawsuit claims, had received commendations and awards and favorable performance evaluations.

Gray made his initial claims of civil rights violations three days after the meeting with Dorning and Jernigan, the lawsuit says.

Gray’s lawsuit includes claims of discrimination, disparate disciplinary treatment, hostile work environment and retaliation.

The lawsuit alleges Gray suffered mental anguish and was put in a false light after being accused of driving drunk on Aug. 13, 2016.

It also alleges comments from Jernigan to Gray furthered that distress.

“Deputy Gray suffered severe mental and emotional anguish and continues to suffer severe mental and emotional anguish for then Chief Deputy Sheriff Jernigan telling him that the SWAT Team could not count on him or depend on him; that he was disobedient; that he lacked the ability to get along with others; that he did not have good judgment; and, that he was on a self-destructive course,” the lawsuit claims.

Gray is seeking reinstatement to his former position with related pay and benefits and compensatory damages for emotional distress and punitive damages.

We've reached out to the attorney for Madison County and the sheriff's office for comment, but we have not yet received a reply.

Updated at 1:48 p.m. to correct plaintiff's first name.