By Julianna Rennie, Originally published by The Charlotte Observer
Gregory Hannah’s problems at work mounted after he received a promotion and his company hired his same-sex partner.
When word spread that the two planned to be married in 2016, the homophobic comments from his co-workers at the Rutherford County manufacturing plant began in earnest, Hannah says in new court documents.
Some of the worst taunts came from his boss, Danny Lynch, who persuaded another employee to falsely accuse Hannah of sexual harassment, and repeatedly reported Hannah for trumped-up violations, the documents say. In May 2017, Lynch had him fired.
Now, Hannah is fighting back, accusing his employer, WestRock Services Inc., of gender discrimination and other employment violations. His federal lawsuit was filed Thursday night. He has asked for a jury trial and damages. He also wants his job back, with back pay.
Hannah became a full-time employee at WestRock’s plant in Forest City in 2015, as the debate over same-sex marriage was heating up in North Carolina and around the country. In 2012 Rutherford County, 65 miles west of Charlotte, approved Amendment One, North Carolina’s constitutional ban against gay marriage, by 81 percent.
According to the lawsuit, Lynch found out that Hannah is gay and started commenting on his sexual orientation and appearance.
One day with Hannah nearby, Lynch, using crude terms, asked a truck driver if he would allow Hannah to perform a sexual act on him.
In April 2016, the complaint says, Lynch discovered that Hannah and his partner had decided to marry, which was now legal in North Carolina. According to the lawsuit, this prompted Lynch to start writing Hannah up for poor performance based on unfounded allegations.
Though Hannah previously had a clean work record, his employee file soon overflowed with sometimes daily complaints. Lynch would brandish the file and threaten to fire Hannah, the lawsuit says.
Lynch also convinced an employee to report Hannah for making an inappropriate comment and touching him in a sexual manner, the lawsuit says.
The company’s investigation disproved the accusation, the lawsuit says, and the employee confessed that Lynch compelled him to make the complaint.
In May 2017, Lynch fired Hannah for allegedly sending an empty box out for shipping. A subsequent investigation found that the parts that were supposed to be in the box went missing during a shift that Hannah did not work, the lawsuit says.
Hannah claims that Lynch’s real motivation for the firing was his homophobia.
Hannah contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and accused WestRock of gender discrimination. In March, the government agency gave Hannah the right to sue.
According to the lawsuit, WestRock fired Lynch over his attitudes and treatment of Hannah.
A spokeswoman in the Atlanta headquarters of WestRock said it is company policy not to comment on ongoing legal matters.
On its website, WestRock says “diversity and inclusion” are company values.
“It all starts with a diverse employee base operating in an inclusive environment,” the company says. “An environment where everyone feels valued and respected.”