Anniston’s former city prosecutor filed suit against the city, city officials and a local activist Thursday, alleging that he was fired in 2020 because of his age and race.
Former prosecutor Jason Odom, who is white, also alleges that he was defamed in public meetings by former City Councilman Ben Little, who is Black, and by Glen Ray, a local NAACP official. The suit also names City Manager Steven Folks as a defendant.
“Ben Little and Glen Ray made defamatory statements about Odom and interfered with his business relationship with the city,” Odom’s lawyers argue in a 30-page complaint filed in United States District Court Thursday.
Odom was hired as a prosecutor in Anniston’s municipal court in 2015. He came under criticism from Ray and Little after the arrest of Anniston resident Rozetta Thompson. In December 2016, Thompson was cited for driving under the influence; the charge was dismissed in court but she was arrested on the same charge months later. Police cited an error on the original citation as a reason for the delayed charge. Odom issued the warrant for Thompson’s arrest, the leader of a city review board said.
In 2019, Little, then a council member, began pushing for a review of the contracts of municipal court officials, including Odom. The council did reopen the position of municipal judge to new applicants, citing a past practice of reviewing judges every few years — but the job of hiring and firing a prosecutor falls to City Manager Steven Folks.
Folks did end Odom’s employment with the city in January 2020. Odom in his lawsuit says the city manager at the time said the city wanted to “move in a different direction.”
Odom’s suit alleges that he was fired because he is white, and that Little, Ray and Folks — all of whom are Black — “engaged in a civil conspiracy to violate Odom’s civil rights to terminate his employment because of his race.”
Odom also alleges Little defamed him with comments made in City Council meetings, including repeated statements that Odom was “falsifying documents,” for which Little offered no proof.
He cites similar “falsifying documents” statements by Ray. According to the suit, Ray at council meetings referred to Odom as a “crook,” said he “ought to be in jail” and said Odom and a municipal judge were “robbing the city.”
Odom is seeking back pay, reinstatement to the prosecutor position, attorney fees and “that relief which is fair, just and equitable,” according to the suit. He’s also seeking court-mandated training for city officials on avoiding employment discrimination.
Odom on Friday referred questions to his lawyer, Heather Newsome Leonard. In an email, Leonard said she couldn’t comment on a case that is still being litigated.
City attorney Bruce Downey — who worked with Odom as part of the city’s legal staff — said the city has hired Michael Thompson, of the Birmingham firm Lehr Middlebrooks, to represent it in the case. Attempts to reach Thompson weren’t successful Friday.
Attempts to reach Folks were unsuccessful Friday. City officials earlier in the week said Folks was out on medical leave.
Little, who lost a re-election bid in 2020 and is now off the council, said in a telephone interview that he wasn’t worried about the suit.
“I care absolutely nothing about any stupid suit by a stupid attorney,” he said.
Little said Odom’s discrimination claim was “an insult to the struggle” of civil rights. He said the prosecutor job was an at-will employment position, which allowed the city to fire Odom at its discretion.
Ray, too, said he wasn’t worried about the suit.
“First he’s got to prove that the city terminated him because I complained about him,” Ray said.
Ray also defended his “robbing the city” comment, saying it was a comment about how municipal courts treat residents.
“I’ve got it on my Facebook page right now that we are tired of the judicial system and the prosecutors robbing the people,” he said.
Odom isn’t the first white city employee to allege discrimination by city officials. Former City Manager Jay Johnson in March 2019 filed a complaint against Little and then-Councilman David Reddick, claiming they had created a hostile workplace for him because he is white.
Johnson resigned in June of that year. He told The Star that the city agreed to pay him 90 days of pay and his accrued vacation time if he agreed not to sue the city.