Former Benton officer sues city, claims discrimination

Shanna Hastings
Sarah Perry
Staff Writer

A former Benton police officer has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that she was discriminated against because of her gender.
Shanna Hastings filed the suit June 8 in Saline County Circuit Court.

Robert A. Newcomb, of Little Rock, is serving as Hastings’ legal counsel.

According to the suit, Hastings was hired as a police officer June 15, 2015, and she had no disciplinary actions during her employment. Hastings learned that she was pregnant toward the end of September or early October.

At that time, she was in the department’s patrol division, but her doctor advised that she should not continue working in that position.
Hasting claims that unlike her male counterpoints, she was not allowed to work in a light duty position.

“The city of Benton allows male officers who become temporarily disabled to work in light duty situations on an uninterrupted basis until they are able to return to work,” according to the suit. “The defendant’s agents, servants and employees, specifically the chief (Kirk Lane) and assistant chief (Scotty Hodges) of the Benton Police Department would not allow the plaintiff to continuously work in a light duty situation during her pregnancy.”

Hastings claims in March 2017 she was involuntarily placed on Family Medical Leave Act and was told “there was no light duty.”
She was later contacted April 9 and told that a light-duty job was available as a 911 dispatcher, but that the job was a permanent position. She was not told if she would eventually be allowed to return to full duty as a police officer.

Hastings gave birth May 30, 2017.

She claims that June 9, 2017, the city said she was out of FMLA time and did not offer her any light duty. She was terminated.
According to the suit, Hastings would have FMLA time available if she had been given a light duty job to do during her pregnancy.

“This action was done because of the plaintiff’s gender,” according to the suit.

“When the defendants terminated the plaintiff they did not follow their own rules and regulations. The Standards of Conduct require that when a termination occurs the person will be informed whether it is classified as a termination with fault or termination without fault. This was not done by the defendants, again evidencing a discriminatory intent,” according to the suit.

Hastings claims she was also not informed about whom to appeal to for the termination.
In reference to the claim, Benton City Attorney Brent Houston said “the city is presently reviewing the allegations made in the lawsuit. After speaking with the Human Resources Department and the police chief (Hodges), I believe many of the factual allegations and conclusions contained in the lawsuit will be disputed. The city will vigorously dispute any assertion Ms. Hastings was discriminated against during her employment.”

He added that the suit has been turned over to the Arkansas Municipal League who is responsible for defending the city in these types of cases.

In the suit, Hastings is requesting that she be reinstated as a Benton police officer. She is also requesting back wages from the date of termination until the date of reinstatement, prejudgement interests at a rate of 6 percent, the city make contributions to her retirement equal to what she would have made if she was employed and attorney’s fees and court costs.

She is also requesting that the court find the termination void and that Hasting is entitled to vacation and sick days that would have been accumulated if she was employed.