Former Rincon officer claims racial, national origin discrimination in federal lawsuit

Local News

RINCON, GA (WSAV) – A former Rincon police officer says he was fired not because of his performance, but his race.

Now he’s filed a federal lawsuit against the Police Chief and City that let him go.

Jose Ramirez was with the Rincon Police Department for nearly 12 years, had no disciplinary record, and had even served as the Department’s interim Chief for several months.

But several months after Chief Mark Gerbino was hired, Ramirez was out of a job.

In his federal lawsuit, Ramirez says Gerbino’s discriminatory words and actions are the real reason he was fired.

“He (Gerbino) was motivated by race is making the adverse actions against our client that he did,” said Ashley Wilson Clark, Ramirez’s attorney.

Mark Gerbino is one of two defendants, along with the City of Rincon, named in the lawsuit which claims race and national origin discrimination.

“He’s targeting people in protected classes from the outset,” says Clark.

Ramirez says in the suit he was warned after Gerbino was hired that he was “out to get him”. Going on to say Gerbino regularly asked low-ranking officers if Mr. Ramirez was speaking negatively about him, without any basis.

The suit details examples of Ramirez being targeted as a Hispanic, and specifically as a Puerto Rican by Gerbino.

In one meeting then the chief allegedly was at a meeting pointing out people’s races and nationalities. He pointed at Ramirez and said, “I can tell you are a Puerto Rican”.

Another time the lawsuit says Gerbino made reference to chili that was being made, telling Ramirez “I didn’t make it spicy because i know you aren’t a real Mexican.”

He also allegedly told another Latino officer to “act like a secretary” for him and handle his dry cleaning. Then suggesting that the Latino officer perform menial tasks for him because “I know how you Latinos are.”

“It has been made very clear that he is someone who believes race is a very important factor in how someone is viewed in the workplace,” explains Clark. “Which is certainly unlawful if you are running a law enforcement agency.”

Ramirez says all his former duties as a Lieutenant, including scheduling, overseeing the Patrol division, recruiting, and training were taken away from him after Gerbino came into office.

Ramirez wasn’t the only officer targeted, Allegedly Gerbino told a Rincon Sergeant soon after he was hired that he wanted Ramirez, an African American officer and an LGBTQ officer all “gone”.

“It paints a picture of someone who has an issue with people of racial and national origin minorities,” explains Clark. “This is certainly true if you look at his record at other police jurisdictions. This was a long-standing issue with him that was known or should have been known by the city of Rincon before they hired him for this prestigious position.”

Before being hired in Rincon, Gerbino left the Savannah Police Department in 2011 where he faced complaints of abusive and hostile workplace conduct and discrimination.

He also resigned as chief of Americus, Georgia in 2013, according to reports at the time before he was to be fired, in part according to the lawsuit using derogatory and profane language to describe female employees.

“(He) conducts a work environment that is hostile,” says Clark. “He is someone that certainly has a long-standing history of problems and they are the exact problems that were born out in Mr. Ramirez’s experience.”

“If you that someone has a race problem. If you know that someone has an extensive list of charges against them of hostile work environment and discriminatory behavior in multiple precincts, it sort of like the old adage, fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on you. To the extent that independent investigations were conducted by attornies and reached those conclusions.”

In his report to the council about Ramirez’s firing in 2019, Gerbino wrote “the current lieutenant/former interim chief resists change and, in some cases, subverts my ability to be effective.”

Gerbino continuing on to say: “During the interim process, this individual was responsible for the Rincon Police Department. This is quite concerning. Deniability of responsibility, as has been the case with this individual, cannot be accepted because it is not plausible that he engaged in these roles yet holds no responsibility for the existence of these conditions or the outcomes described here-in under his command.

Gerbino’s decision to fire Ramirez was upheld during a public hearing that year. Ramirez’s attorney says the City never listened to Ramirez’s description of discriminatory behavior. Instead, taking Gerbino’s side in the issue.

“They just simply rubber-stamped his recommendation based on a pretext and fabricated allegations,” said Clark. “He (Ramirez) is someone who is described as untruthful, has performance issues and essentially made to be a pariah by someone who it has previously been determined twists the truth for his own purposes.”

Gerbino resigned as Rincon Chief after less than a year on the job for “personal reasons.” and to “pursue other opportunities”.

He is now the Assistant Chief at Davidson College in North Carolina.

According to his Linked in profile, Ramirez is now an instructor at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.

His lawsuit is asking for back pay, attorney’s fees and compensatory and punitive damages.

The city of Rincon released the following statement Friday:

The City of Rincon has recently been named in a lawsuit by a former employee. Jose Ramirez alleges he was fired based on his race versus his performance by former police chief Mark Gerbino. Ramirez filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after his termination and the federal agency conducted a full and exhaustive investigation, and did not conclude that there was discrimination in this case.

Statements by Ramirez about the former police chief and the city are misleading and inaccurate and tv interviews by his Atlanta based legal team are nothing more than a political effort to influence the decision of the case before the facts are presented.

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