By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Separate cases have been ordered for two former Tupelo Regional Airport administrators who sued after they lost their jobs.
Former airport Executive Director Terry Anderson and former Operations Manager Reid Dawe together filed a federal suit in January, alleging that their rights were violated under the First and 14th Amendments as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Both men also filed discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Anderson was fired in December 2009 after the board said it had lost confidence in him. Dawe resigned last October but said he was forced to take a pay cut and pressured into quitting.
Last month, the Tupelo Airport Authority, which oversees the airport, asked for separate trials, arguing the men have separate claims. The men’s attorneys asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi to deny the motion
However, on Thursday, the court ruled in favor of the authority, essentially splitting the case in two.
So, each man’s case now will be heard separately. The current case will be closed and new filings will be made, with separate trial dates determined later.
Anderson’s and Dawe’s claims, the court said, “do not arise from the same transaction or occurrence and will require different witnesses and documentary proof. There is no single incident from which both plaintiffs suffered an adverse employment action.”
The court said Anderson’s claims are based on events that took place while he was employed with the authority, while Dawe’s claims are based on events that happened after Anderson was fired.
“Although both plaintiffs allege ADEA and First Amendment violations,” the court continued, “their claims are based on different legal theories. Anderson asserts discrimination and violation of his right to free speech, whereas Dawe asserts retaliation and violation of his right to freely associate with other people. If the claims continue jointly, evidence will be presented for one plaintiff that is irrelevant to the other. This could confuse the jury in determining which evidence and defenses are applicable to each plaintiff.”
Both men are asking for monetary damages from mental anxiety, stress and loss of income, and the court said the damages are “unique to each plaintiff and must be calculated separately.”