Friday, January 14, 2000

Woman retains her 'right to gripe'

Court: Criticisms constitutional

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Warren County's only female wrecker operator Thursday brought home the constitutional “right to gripe” about state officials without retaliation.

        The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit said Sarah Gable's private complaint to the Ohio State Highway Patrol was protected by the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

        That rejected state claims that the First Amendment protects citizens from retribution only on matters of public concern.

        The court also affirmed Ms. Gable's $55,000 award against retired Capt. Ronald G. Lewis.

        She said he ended all wrecker calls from the patrol as revenge for her complaints about treatment by the Lebanon post.

        “I've waited a lot of years for this answer,” Ms. Gable, 44, said.

        “It feels wonderful. The system really does work.”

        Thursday's victory brightened plans for her 25th anniversary celebration as a tow truck driver for her firm, Lebanon-based Case Towing.

        “It's very exciting,” said her attorney, Alphonse A. Gerhardstein. “It's the "right to gripe.' It means you can complain about big government and big government can't turn around and push you around.”

        The case began in 1996 after Lt. Roger Hannay, the Lebanon commander, consolidated wrecker lists and halved wrecker calls to Ms. Gable.

        She complained to the highway patrol that it was sexual discrimination.

        Mr. Lewis — Wilmington District commander and Lt. Hannay's boss — rejected that complaint as unfounded.

        Mr. Lewis subsequently deleted her from the patrol wrecker list after determining that she didn't have a place of business in Deerfield Township.

        She sued.

        At trial in 1998, Mr. Lewis conceded that Ms. Gable wasn't required to have a Deerfield facility and acknowledged that Ms. Gable's wider complaints about unfair treatment weren't “totally unreasonable.”

        Jurors said Ms. Gable failed to prove sexual discrimination by Lt. Hannay, but they said Mr. Lewis' action was unconstitutional retaliation.

        Ms. Gable said she again is getting calls from the highway patrol, but there are still some questions she wants to resolve.


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- Woman retains her 'right to gripe'