August 26, 2017 10:13:31 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
A Columbus woman is claiming in a federal lawsuit that Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi fired her for raising concerns about discrimination against a pregnant employee and whistleblowing other employees' alleged illegal activity -- including sexual harassment and using company funds to pay prostitutes.
Yokohama, in a response filed this week, has denied all of the allegations against it and is asking the court to dismiss the case.
Sarah McAnally Heinkel filed the suit in May in the U.S. District Court for Northern Mississippi in Aberdeen. She is seeking damages as determined by a jury and reinstatement at the company.
Though filing the complaint under Heinkel, she has since reverted to her maiden name of Sarah McAnally.
Tupelo Attorney Jim Waide is representing McAnally.
Her complaint notes Yokohama hired her as its environmental health and safety manager in March 2014. Yokohama terminated her employment on June 20, 2016.
On Jan. 13, 2016, the complaint says, McAnally complained Yokohama was discriminating against a pregnant employee.
"(McAnally's) complaint was that (Yokohama) had moved the employee to a less desirable work station because of her pregnancy," the complaint says.
After her initial complaint, McAnally also complained Yokohama didn't provide reasonable accommodations to the pregnant employee.
The suit further alleges McAnally's complaint about discrimination against the pregnant employee followed two complaints about illegal activity at the company.
One complaint alleged a cover-up of sexual harassment allegations against a male employee. The second complaint alleges that same male employee used company resources to pay prostitutes for Yokohama employees during an overseas trip.
The complaint says McAnally received a below-average performance rating in March and was discharged in June.
McAnally's suit claims her complaints about the alleged discrimination against the pregnant employee and the alleged sexual harassment cover-up were protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The suit similarly claims her complaint about the alleged use of company funds for prostitutes is protected under Mississippi public policy.
Waide declined to comment on the case.
Yokohama filed a response to McAnally's complaint on Tuesday, in which the company issued a broad denial of her claims, and invokes 28 defenses against her charges.
Columbus law firm Brunini, Grantham, Grower and Hewes and Virginia firm Woods Rogers PLC are representing Yokohama.
The response includes a wide range of defenses, including that McAnally can't prove the pregnant employee was treated any differently than other employees.
"(McAnally) cannot show that similarly situated, non-pregnant employees were treated more favorably or that she reasonably believed that similarly situated, non-pregnant employees were treated more favorably," the response says.
Yokohama also claims in its defenses that McAnally didn't exhaust company policies and administrative remedies before filing the lawsuit.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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