Winfield cell, text data admissable, court says

Published 12:14 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

Mayor Paul Winfield’s cell phone records and available text messages for part of his time as mayor are fair game in his former chief of staff’s sexual harassment lawsuit, according to a court order.

Calls and texts between July 1, 2009, and April 18, 2011, should be produced as part of the case, said an order signed Monday by Magistrate Judge John M. Roper and made public Thursday. The court said the presentation should take place for “in camera review,” or a closed session of the court.

A case management conference by phone is set for Aug. 1 between the court and both parties.

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Kenya Burks alleged in a suit filed in February against the city that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation because of a consensual sexual relationship with Winfield, 37. In April, Burks, 38, added Winfield individually as a defendant, and alleged job benefits were tied to giving in to unwelcome sexual advances. Winfield has denied the claims of sexual relations. The city has argued the suit is without merit.

Her attorneys had subpoenaed AT&T and C Spire Wireless to turn over call and text data for 2009 to 2011, with no time frame specified. The city and Winfield have argued the pursuit of his personal cell phone records were irrelevant to Burks’ case and amounted to a “fishing expedition.” Roper’s order covers a period two days before Winfield was inaugurated publicly to the day Burks’ $72,000-a-year position was eliminated by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Burks was hired as Winfield’s chief of staff on July 24, 2009, when she was hired on a 2-1 vote on the city board, with South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman dissenting.

Burks has claimed the records could show Winfield had at least two extramarital affairs and show a pattern of adulterous behavior.

The city denied claims that Winfield became physically abusive after she tried to end the relationship and Burks’ claim that her position was eliminated because she did not initially accept $9,701.59 in back overtime pay. In a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission four days after the board nixed her job, Burks said the back pay amounted to a bribe.

Gary Friedman of the Phelps Dunbar firm in Jackson represents the city. Louis H. Watson Jr., P.A., also of Jackson, represents Burks.