Former Lumberton police chief suing city for religious discrimination

By HASKEL BURNS,

The former Lumberton Police Chief who was removed from that position in August 2018 and reclassified as a police officer is suing the city of Lumberton, Mayor Quincy Rogers and all five members of the Lumberton Board of Aldermen for religious discrimination and retaliation.

A document filed in United State District Court by attorneys Louis Watson and Nick Morris alleges that when Carlus Page was hired as a police officer in April 2013, he requested religious accommodation to have Sundays off as a day of worship, and in 2014 became the pastor of New Heights Church of Christ in Biloxi. Page’s request was accommodated until July 2015, when he resigned from the department for personal reasons.

“In December 2017, (then-chief) Shane Flynt contacted plaintiff and asked him to come back to work at the Lumberton Police Department,” the document reads. Plaintiff agreed to come back part-time, with the understanding that he would still receive the same accommodation he had previously.

“Chief Flynt asked plaintiff if he would be able to work on Sunday evenings on rare occasion when the need was dire. Plaintiff agreed to this with the caveat that his accommodation would still generally be in place and it was understood that his role and responsibilities as a preacher took priority over his role as a police officer on Sundays.”

Flynt resigned as chief in March 2018 after a video surfaced of him allegedly smoking marijuana. The next month, Page was named as chief, with the agreement that his schedule would be Monday through Friday, with Sundays off to accommodate his continued role as pastor at the church.

In late August 2018, the mayor and the board of aldermen convened to executive session, where aldermen voted unanimously to reclassify Page from chief to a part-time patrol officer at a salary of $12.50 per hour for 32 hours a week.

The document states that shortly after that, although Page had confirmed his religious request with the officer in charge of scheduling, Page received a text with his schedule for the month of September 2018, in which he was scheduled to work every Sunday of that month.

“Since plaintiff’s religious accommodation (which had been in place since 2013) had been ignored, plaintiff was left with no choice but to withdraw himself from the position, as no reasonable person would have continued to work under the circumstances,” the document states. “Plaintiff has been retaliated against in the terms and conditions of his employment because he engaged in protected activity by requesting a religious accommodation.”

Page is requesting back wages and reinstatement to the position of chief. In lieu of that, he is seeking future wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other expenses.

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