Ex-Middletown city manager wants job back, says he was on ‘hit list’ due to race, gender, age

Doug Adkins, Middletown's former city manager, has filed a civil lawsuit against the city claiming age, gender and race discrimination. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Doug Adkins, Middletown's former city manager, has filed a civil lawsuit against the city claiming age, gender and race discrimination. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Doug Adkins, who served as Middletown’s city manager for five years until his contract was terminated in 2019 by the city council, has filed a civil lawsuit against the city saying he wants his job back, all lost wages and benefits and he was on a “hit list” due to being an older white male.

In the four counts originally filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, then transferred to Butler County Common Pleas Court recently at the city’s request, Adkins, a 59-year-old white male, claims age discrimination, gender discrimination, race discrimination, and retaliation.

Besides his job, wages and benefits, the suit says Adkins wants front pay, compensatory benefits, punitive damages, compensation for the adverse tax consequences of receiving a lump sum award rather than his compensation over several separate tax years, attorney fees, and costs.

The city’s attorneys, Schroeder, Maundrell, Barbiere & Powers of Mason denied all claims in the suit, according to the documents.

Adkins, who is represented by Freking Myers & Reul LLC, Cincinnati, demanded a trial by jury on all issues before Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel Haughey, according to the documents.

In the suit, Adkins claims that after the 2018 Middletown city council election, a “hit list” of older white men in leadership positions in the city and throughout the community was created and he became “a target.”

Adkins began receiving interference in carrying out his duties. and when he pushed back, he was subjected to “hostility and retaliation,” according to the suit.

He said there were “false claims” made about his performance as city manager.

Adkins worked for Middletown for 14 years as an assistant city prosecutor, city prosecutor and community redevelopment director before his appointment as city manager in June 2014.

Following a public outburst at a downtown coffee shop on Oct. 2, 2019, the city council gave Adkins a one-day unpaid suspension on Oct. 24 and ordered him to make a public apology at the Oct. 15 council meeting.

On Nov. 5, the council began the termination process of Adkins and said it “no longer desires to employ Douglas Adkins because of irreconcilable differences between council and Mr. Adkins concerning leadership style, and these differences make his continued work as city manager untenable.”

The termination was finalized on Dec. 17, 2019.

The suit says that after Adkins was terminated, a “significantly younger female” took over as acting city manager. Susan Cohen, a 39-year-old white female, was promoted to acting city manager. She served that role until City Manager Jim Palenick, a 60-year-old white male, was hired in July 2020.

Cohen left the city this year to become Union Twp. administrator in Clermont County.

Paul Lolli, a 60-year-old white male and the city’s fire chief, was named acting city manager after Palenick and city council signed a mutual separation agreement, ending his tenure as leader of Butler County’s second-largest city. The city’s assistant manager is Nathan Cahall, a white male.

Two years ago, Adkins filed a federal age discrimination complaint against the city.

He filed the complaint on April 13, 2020, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office in Cincinnati. The EEOC enforces federal civil rights laws that protect people from workplace discrimination and retaliation.

That lawsuit was dismissed on Nov. 24, 2020, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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