TOPEKA, Kansas – A lawsuit filed against the city government of Topeka accuses them of racial and age discrimination. Keith Bennett, an employee of the utilities department, claims he has been a victim of these unfair practices. The lawsuit, filed on December 22, alleges that Bennett, who is 54 years old and Black, received a “right to sue” letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on September 27.
The lawsuit specifically cites one count each of discrimination and retaliation based on race, as well as discrimination and retaliation based on age. Bennett is seeking compensatory and punitive damages totaling $300,000, as well as back pay, benefits, attorney’s fees, and reimbursement for the costs of his lawsuit.
Gretchen Spiker, the communications director for Topeka’s city government, acknowledged the lawsuit and stated that the city takes such claims seriously. She expressed confidence in the justice system to address the matter and refrained from making further comments due to the ongoing litigation.
In 2015, Bennett made headlines when he drove a city-owned dump truck across a pedestrian bridge at Heartland Park Topeka, causing the bridge to collapse. Despite being initially reported as no longer employed by the city, records later revealed that Bennett had been rehired and praised. He was even awarded the Topeka Above and Beyond Award in 2021, according to the city’s website.
According to Bennett’s lawsuit, he was initially hired in 2012 as a laborer and was promoted to the position of lead man/operator in 2017. The petition states that throughout his employment, Bennett never received any negative feedback about his performance or any indication of dissatisfaction. However, despite expressing interest in a promotion to the position of foreman since 2019, Bennett claims that utilities director Sylvia Davis has declined to promote him four times. The lawsuit alleges that Davis repeatedly cancelled Bennett’s interviews for the position. Additionally, the petition asserts that the four individuals promoted instead of Bennett were all younger, white, and less qualified.
These allegations highlight the concern that the city government of Topeka may have engaged in discriminatory practices when it comes to promotions and opportunities for advancement. It will be up to the court system to determine the validity of Bennett’s claims and the appropriate course of action.