Former EMS captain sues; says county retaliated

WINNSBORO – A former Fairfield County employee is suing the county, alleging it retaliated against her for voting (as a member of the county’s grievance committee) against the termination of another county employee.


Anna Rhodes, who was a Fairfield County EMS captain before being terminated, filed suit Jan. 19 against Fairfield County in Fairfield County Circuit Court.

The county was served Jan. 25, 2024, but had not filed a response as of press time. County Attorney Tommy Morgan could not be reached as of press time.

In court records filed Jan. 19, Rhodes said she worked for Fairfield County EMS for 21 years and was promoted several times, including to deputy director and captain, but things turned south after she was placed on the county’s grievance committee last year.

Rhodes said she requested to not serve on the committee, but Mary Smyrl, who has served as the county’s Human Resources director for about a year, rejected Rhode’s request, according to court records.

On May 4, 2023, the grievance committee heard a grievance filed by a recently terminated employee.

Rhodes said she and the committee had requested the employee’s records, but Smyrl refused to supply them, according to the lawsuit.

The committee eventually obtained the documents through the county attorney, which upset Smyrl, the lawsuit continues.

When the committee voted informally to overturn the termination, the suit states, Smyrl said that votes would not be anonymous and demanded committee members justify their vote.

The committee reconvened and voted 4-3 to affirm overturning the county’s recommendation to terminate the fellow employee. Rhodes notified the committee chairman of her reason for her vote and further stated that “nowhere in our grievance policy does it state or require the members to give justification for their determination.”

Rhodes stated in the suit that about a month later, Smyrl asked Rhodes to step down from her position as EMS captain due to a complaint lodged against her. Rhodes further stated that Laura Johnson, interim administrator, suggested Rhodes, instead, be placed on a two-week paid leave.

No details of the complaint or allegations behind it were provided to Rhodes, the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit also stated that during the investigation, Smyrl “called several people” who either had negative views about Rhodes or who Rhodes had terminated, according to the suit. Rhodes said Smyrl was “actively fishing for anything to use against the Plaintiff,” according to court records.

“Smyrl gathered some untrue and defamatory remarks against Plaintiff from a couple select individuals that disliked Plaintiff,” the suit states. “All these untrue and defamatory remarks were used against Plaintiff in her grievance hearing regarding her leave/termination.”

On June 20, the county terminated Rhodes without giving her an opportunity to refute the accusations against her, according to the suit.

“Plaintiff grieved her own termination but it was upheld. This is unsurprising after Smyrl retaliated against the Plaintiff for her own participation during the prior committee meeting and her support to overturn the other employee’s termination,” the suit states. “Moreover, Smyrl conducted the grievance hearing on behalf of the county despite having a pending harassment report against herself (Smyrl).”

The lawsuit states that, after Rhodes’ dismissal, the county disseminated false statements and reasons for termination to third parties. Rhodes said she has had difficulty finding work.

She is seeking actual damages in an amount to be determined by a jury, as well as attorney fees, legal fees, and any other relief to be determined by the court.

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