Former supervisor suing city of Cincinnati made profane comments, employee says

CINCINNATI -- A former supervisor suing the city of Cincinnati made sexist, racist and profane comments in the workplace, according to one of his employees.

Gary Colorez was on the job less than three months at Cincinnati's Public Services Department. In a federal lawsuit filed Friday, he alleged department Director Maraskeshia Smith and City Manager Harry Black fired him because he started digging into what he believed was widespread waste and fraud.

Emails from Tonya Ervin, a sanitation specialist under Colorez, indicate there might have been other reasons.

She filed a formal employee relations complaint in mid-August. At that point, Colorez had been public works operations superintendent for about two months. Ervin said she believed Colorez didn't treat her fairly and used her husband's position in the department against her.

"Nothing here is professional," she wrote in an email.

She told the city's human resources department Colorez also retaliated against her for filing the complaint, that she was offered overtime pay if she agreed not to pursue it and that Colorez made several inappropriate remarks.

"Gary walks around saying he's going to sue the f***** City if they don't bring some Mexicans in here," Ervin wrote in the Aug. 25 email.

She also claimed:

  • "He says things like f*** Markeisha (sic) I tell her what to do"
  • "And that (Deputy Director Joel Koopman) is just Markeisia's (sic) b**** boy"
  • "He has said in a meeting where (senior safety specialist) Anita Callahan was present that he is going to do the city like a woman" and then described a sex act. WCPO has attempted to reach Callahan to verify if this is true.

Ervin sent the email less than two weeks before Smith fired him, on Sept. 7.

WCPO became aware of possible complaints against Colorez from a Facebook comment the former department director made Sunday. Gerald Checco, who now leads the Metropolitan Sewer District, wrote that Colorez "will probably belong to the most 'deplorable hired' wall of shame." He was responding to the story we published over the weekend about Colorez's lawsuit.

We requested Colorez's personnel file and any complaints against him based on Checco's statements. Ervin's was the only complaint the city provided. City officials said there were no other records.

"I knew that the city was going to try to find some dirt," Colorez told us Monday. "But you know, if that was the case, then why didn't anyone ever come up to me and say, 'Hey Gary, you're doing this such-and-such wrong, it has to stop.' No one ever came to me with anything."

He said he'd fight the city "tooth and nail to the bottom."

In his lawsuit, Colorez alleges the city, Smith and Black wrongfully fired him, violated Ohio's whistleblower law, abused their power and violated his rights to free speech and due process. He wants the city to hire him back into his old job.

"My wife even commented, she said, 'You're not going to go back there, are you?' I said, 'You know, I almost feel it's my duty to go back and complete the mission that I started,'" he said.

Colorez also is seeking punitive damages, back pay and attorney's fees, among other things.

Terry Nestor, deputy city solicitor, said Colorez' lawsuit "contains numerous allegations that are either false, contain half-truths, or demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the City and the Public Services Department." In a statement to WCPO, he said Colorez was fired for failure to perform and inappropriate behavior:

"Gary Colorez was hired by the City as Superintendent of Public Services in June 18, 2017 as an at-will employee. Mr. Colorez was terminated September 8, 2017, less than three months into his employment, for failure to perform and inappropriate behavior. Mr. Colorez’s Complaint contains numerous allegations that are either false, contain half-truths, or demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the City and the Public Services Department.

"Like the other lawsuits filed by this same attorney, this version makes allegations relating to the use of third-party vendors. It should be noted that Mr. Colorez was not responsible for the contract with the third-party street sweepers. Street sweepers, like other city vendors, are paid based on submitted invoices. For street-sweepers, the invoice is submitted with GPS tracking for payment.

"Mr. Colorez was not involved in City contracting with BFX, LLC. As in the other case filed by these same lawyers, the City denies that BFX was illegally procured, and submits that the use of BFX is consistent with City priorities expressed by Council ordinance.

"The City categorically denies any allegation of inappropriate contracting or overpayment. The business decision to terminate Mr. Colorez was not related to any of the allegations in this version of a now repetitive set of unproven allegations. City management makes employment decisions based on legitimate business reasons related to performance and merit, as allowed by state and local law. The City looks forward to defending these lawsuits."

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