Lexington parks staffer suspended for remarks about LGBTQ community, religion, COVID

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A deputy director in Lexington’s parks department has been suspended for making multiple inappropriate remarks regarding religion, employee’s clothes and the LGBTQ community, according to documents obtained by the Lexington-Herald-Leader.

The city’s human resources department substantiated six violations against Chris Cooperrider, who has worked for parks since 2009. Two were for violating policies regarding harassment and four were violations of city policies regarding professional behavior, according to a Sept. 2 memo the Herald-Leader obtained through an Open Records Act request.

Cooperrider is appealing the 48-hour suspension, according to the documents.

“We will vigorously defend the allegations: they are untrue and politically motivated,” said Chris Wiest, Cooperrider’s lawyer. Wiest of Northern Kentucky is representing U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and Ralph Norman, R-S.C., in a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s mask mandate. Wiest has also filed various lawsuits challenging the state’s COVID restrictions

In addition to the suspension, Cooperrider was ordered to undergo additional training regarding harassment.

“The substantiated allegations include inappropriate remarks regarding religion, the LGBTQ community, COVID policy and employee’s clothing,” the city memo states. “Mr. Cooperrider was also found to have engaged in conversations with staff that could be intended to manipulate, intimidate and/or threaten the employee’s ability to promote within the Classified Civil Service System in the future or otherwise make things difficult with regard to work environment, as well as conversations implying the holding of a position for the purposes of promoting a specific employee.”

This is not the first time Cooperrider has been accused of making improper remarks to subordinates.

Prior to his employment in Lexington, Cooperrider was a supervisor in parks and public works in Mentor, Ohio.

In August 2008, Cooperrider and the city of Mentor were unsuccessfully sued in federal court by a former part-time parks employee alleging sex discrimination among other claims.

The lawsuit was filed by Claudia Unger, who was a part-time maintenance and groundskeeper for the parks department, according to court records and media reports.

After giving birth in January 2004, Unger claimed she reapplied for her position but was told by Cooperrider, her supervisor, that she should “stay home and have more babies,” Unger was told that most of the men were doing construction, she was not needed and she was not re-hired until April or May, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Ohio. Cooperrider also allegedly told her that she would not be eligible for full-time benefits and that she should work at Starbucks if she wanted benefits.

The lawsuit said even though she was a seasonal employee, Unger often worked 11 months out of the year. She was denied full-time union status, according to the lawsuit.

Unger filed a state unfair labor practices complaint in August 2007. In September, she was notified she would be laid off by the city, according to the court records.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in the city’s favor in 2009 and dismissed the case, according to court records. Unger was a part-time, seasonal employee and therefore was not eligible for union status under state rules, the judge wrote. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately upheld the decision in 2010.

According to a November 2008 Willoughby, Ohio News-Herald article about the lawsuit, Cooperrider had retired from the department in November 2008.

Officials with the city of Mentor, Ohio, did not immediately respond to a phone call or an email about Cooperrider’s departure from city employment.

On his application with the city of Lexington, Cooperrider said he left the Mentor job to “achieve personal growth.” The city’s application also asks if a potential candidate has been dismissed or forced to resign in the past 12 months. Cooperrider checked “no.”

It’s not clear if the city knew about the claims against Cooperrider when he was hired in January 2009 during then-Mayor Jim Newberry’s administration. There were no other disciplinary actions in Cooperrider’s personnel file.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city does not comment on personnel matters.

Cooperrider is the father of Andrew Cooperrider, the Lexington Brewed Coffee shop owner who was one of four men to unsuccessfully try to file a petition to impeach Gov. Andy Beshear over his COVID-19 mandates. Andrew Cooperrider recently announced he will run for state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr’s Lexington senate seat. Kerr has announced she will not run for re-election.