A former medical investigator who responded to death scenes in Mecklenburg County is suing, alleging racial bias and claiming he was wrongfully fired over his posts on social media.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, William Eric Wheeler blames an unnamed colleague who he says was “belligerent” and who “exploited” their connection on social media “to mine his posts” and report him to human resources.
Wheeler is white. He claims in his lawsuit that the county held him to a “higher standard” than other Medical Examiner Office workers because of his race. At the time of his firing he was lead death investigator, according to the lawsuit.
Mecklenburg County spokesman Rick Christenbury told the Observer in an email that the county does not comment on pending litigation.
Wheeler was fired in 2017 after initially being suspended from work for one month, his lawsuit states. The county considered some of Wheeler’s social media posts a violation of policy but he contends what he wrote “were innocuous posts about his workday” and caused no one harm.
He’s seeking reinstatement, full back pay and benefits, and damages for emotional distress and harm to his reputation . He said he’s been “blacklisted” and “forced to surrender a profession he felt put on earth to do in favor of taking whatever job he can get to put food on the table,” according to his lawsuit.
Before he was fired, Wheeler responded to the scenes of 66 homicides in one year, the lawsuit states.
In his lawsuit, Wheeler claims that the woman who turned him in to HR “was a bad hire and there were ample grounds to terminate her.”
“Where Mr. Wheeler fostered cooperation and a close working relationship with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Ms. Doe was belligerent with her CMPD counterparts and instigated needless turf wars,” according to the lawsuit.
Some CMPD detectives, the lawsuit claims, asked to not work with the unnamed colleague and once raised concern over whether she’d tampered with evidence at a death scene.
Her job performance is mentioned in Wheeler’s lawsuit, according to the filing, because it demonstrates how Wheeler was treated unfairly based on his race.
The anonymous woman mentioned in the lawsuit — who is described only as “non-white” — “frequently disregarded established policies and procedures,” Wheeler claims in the suit. Yet she received only a written warning from the county human resources department, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit contends Wheeler’s race “was a determining factor in his termination,” and that he was held to a higher standard than other employees who are not “Caucasian males.”
The lawsuit cites the cases of two white women “who were disciplined on multiple occasions” but never fired — both later resigned — and an African American man ”who was given multiple verbal warnings and a written warning before he was eventually terminated.”
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