Former Chief Deputy Coroner David Westbrook has filed a lawsuit against Coroner Chad Kelley, claiming that he was fired for refusing to engage in sexual conduct with Kelley, creating a "hostile work environment."

Former Chief Deputy Coroner David Westbrook has filed a lawsuit against Coroner Chad Kelley, claiming that he was fired for refusing to engage in sexual conduct with Kelley, creating a "hostile work environment."


Kelley responded to the lawsuit by saying that Westbrook was fired for unauthorized use of a gasoline credit card issued to the coroner’s office.


Westbrook’s attorney Luther Sutter said Westbrook plans to run for the coroner’s office against Kelley, who has already filed the paperwork required to run for re-election. As of the end of the business day Wednesday, Westbrook had not filed to run for the office.


The lawsuit, against Kelley in both his individual and official capacities, described Kelley as "homosexual" and said Westbrook is not. It alleges sex discrimination and retaliation and was filed under the Arkansas Whistleblowers Protection Act and Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993.


"Defendant (Kelley) made multiple sexual advances to the Plaintiff (Westbrook)," the lawsuit said. "Indeed, Defendant unbeknownst to Plaintiff awarded him the Chief Deputy position in order to seduce Plaintiff. However, when Plaintiff refused, Defendant demoted Plaintiff and eventually terminated Plaintiff in September 2013."


On the advice of his attorney, Kelley declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday, but faxed a one-sentence statement and a copy of a report filed with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office about the alleged unauthorized use of the credit card.


"Mr. Westbrook was terminated in the later part of 2013 for violation of Jefferson County Policy of unauthorized use of the Coroner’s Office Gas Credit Card, which is funded by the tax payers of Jefferson County," Kelley’s statement said.


Sutter said in an interview Wednesday that the allegations that Westbrook misused the credit card are "totally false."


"I stand by my complaint," Sutter said. "I would not have filed the lawsuit if I thought that was true. The witnesses I have talked to would corroborate my client’s story and if my client stole something, he (Kelley) should get the prosecutor involved. This will not be a he-said-she-said. I look forward to him proving that. It is absolutely false."


The report, written by Sheriff’s Deputy William Freeman on Nov. 26, 2013, said Kelley contacted the sheriff’s office after Holly Sperry, the office manager, told him in late 2012 that the Exxon Mobil credit card bill for the year had been high.


According to the report, Kelley reviewed the bills and made the decision to remove the coroner’s truck from Westbrook because of the excessive gas usage and and because the vehicle had allegedly been damaged in the parking lot of the apartment complex where Westbrook lived.


The report said Kelley met with Westbrook on Sept. 3, 2013, and advised him that after reviewing the credit card bills, a total of $1,136.99 in charges were made in 2012 when Westbrook was not on call, and in 2013, there had been $176.03 in charges made on the card when Westbrook was not on call. Kelley said Westbrook denied making the purchases and said he would drive his personal vehicle when on call and would reimburse his gas, something Kelley said was not acceptable because the coroner’s office had three vehicles that were available to deputy coroners at any time.


Kelley told Westbrook he had two options, resign as a deputy coroner or be fired, and he told Freeman that Westbrook "removed his keys from his key ring, placed them on the desk and began walking out of the Coroner’s Office."


The report said Westbrook came to the office on Sept. 13 to ask about getting his keys back because the original call out schedule had him on call that weekend. Kelley said he told Westbrook the schedule had been changed and Westbrook placing the keys on the desk indicated to him that Westbrook was resigning and that he needed to return the property he had that belonged to the coroner’s office. According to Kelley, Westbrook said he was not resigning and he would not return the property.


On Oct. 23, the sheriff’s office hand delivered a termination letter to Westbrook and included a list of property to be returned to the office. According to the sheriff’s office report, that property was delivered to the sheriff’s office the next day and then returned to the coroner’s office.


Westbrook’s lawsuit claims that Westbrook was subject to "multiple sexual innuendos" that created a hostile work environment.


The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of more than $75,000, plus attorney fees, costs and re-statement.


A response to the lawsuit filed by attorneys C. Burt Newell and Ralph C. Ohm, both of Hot Springs, denied all Westbrook’s accusations and asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.


The lawsuit was assigned to Second Division Circuit Judge Robert C. Wyatt Jr., but Wednesday afternoon, Wyatt sent a letter to Chief Justice Jim Hannah of the Arkansas Supreme Court requesting a special judge be appointed to hear the case.


The letter said Wyatt and Circuit Judges Berlin C. Jones, Bill Benton, Leon Jamison, Jodi Raines Dennis and Earnest Brown Jr., were all recusing themselves from the case to avoid an appearance of impropriety because Kelley is "the duly acting and elected Coroner of Jefferson County."


Sutter said the judges recusing themselves was "unfortunate, but I look forward to working with a new judge."


Sheriff’s office spokesman Major Lafayette Woods Jr. said Wednesday that after a review of the investigative report, the sheriff’s office has declined to investigate further at this time and will be sending the allegations back to the coroner’s office for an internal review.


Sutter, who is from Benton, responded to questions Wednesday evening but declined to provide Westbrook’s contact information.