Former Rockdale employee who sued county says she won't appeal

CONYERS -- Even though her claims of racial discrimination against Rockdale County have been dismissed, former deputy director of public relations Holly Lafontaine believes her lawsuit was justified.

"I feel like although the judge dismissed the case, to me it doesn't dismiss the fact that I had a case and I was right," Lafontaine said. "Sometimes justice doesn't always prevail."

Clarence Cooper, senior judge for the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, accepted the recommendation of federal Magistrate Court Judge E. Clayton Scofield III, and ordered on Feb. 24 that Lafontaine take nothing and County Commission Chairman Richard Oden and Rockdale County recover costs incurred for the litigation.

Lafontaine said on Friday that she chose not to appeal the ruling and has instead entered into an agreement with the county where she would receive a $5,000 settlement.

"That amount will just about cover my expenses and attorney's fees," she said.

"All along, my main reason to file was not about the money, but about the principle of it. I felt like what had transpired was wrong, and I still do. But I'm ready to move on, and I hope by me filing this case it has at least opened some people's eyes. And if it protected just one person, then it was worth it to me."

Tonya Parker, director of community affairs and innovative programs for Rockdale County, said on Friday that the county did not have any comment on the pending settlement other than to reiterate Oden's statement on Tuesday.

"We are pleased with the judge's ruling and are now ready to move forward beyond this issue," he stated.

Lafontaine filed a lawsuit in August 2010 alleging she was the victim of racial discrimination and retaliation when she was not selected as the county's director of Public Affairs and Media Relations.

Lafontaine had worked for Rockdale County for 15 years, including eight years in the Public Affairs Department. She served as interim director of Public Affairs and Media Relations from July 2009 through April 2010 following the departure of then-director Julie Mills.

Lafontaine applied for the director's position and was among the three finalists. Lafontaine alleged in her lawsuit that Oden selected Erica Fatima, who is black, over Lafontaine, who is white, based on race.

Oden and the county countered that while Lafontaine was qualified for the position, Fatima was a better fit for the direction Oden, who was elected chairman in 2008, wanted to take the county.

Lafontaine further claimed county officials retaliated against her when, days after her attorney Lee Parks sent a letter to the Board of Commissioners alleging discrimination, her position was eliminated through budget cuts.

"Of course, I would have been a lot happier if the judge had not dismissed the case because I feel like they did wrong, and I wish that a judge would have validated that for me," Lafontaine said. "But just because a judge didn't validate it for me, I know in my heart I was right."

Lafontaine said she is ready to move forward. She is now a deputy sheriff working in the Support Services Division with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, and said she is enjoying this new chapter in her life.

Lafontaine said she wanted to thank everyone who has stood by her through this case.

"The people in this community who have supported me are just amazing and I don't know where to begin to thank them," she said. "The support of the folks in the community helped me get through this."