A Helena-West Helena woman filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court alleging sexual discrimination, false arrest and defamation against a state agency, the mayor of Helena-West Helena and the city's Police Department.
Francine Hawkins, a transgender woman, alleges that she lost her job as a foster parent at a counseling center, where she had previously been discriminated against because of her sexual identity, following an unfair arrest by Helena-West Helena police and the posting of false information online by Mayor Kevin Smith.
The lawsuit states that Hawkins began working for Counseling and Education Center Inc. in 2012, before her transition and that she "performed her duties and did not have any negative write ups about her performance."
When Hawkins began transitioning in 2019, she began to receive negative feedback and comments from supervisors and co-workers, according to the lawsuit.
On June 25, 2019, when she took her son in for questioning about an alleged murder, he fled from the Helena-West Helena police station. She was subsequently arrested because police said she hindered them from arresting her son.
According to the lawsuit, Hawkins "did not at any [point] interfere with or impede the investigation into or pursuit of her son." The lawsuit states that she was arrested on charges of hindering apprehension and obstructing governmental operations, though the charges were never filed.
A search on the state directory for the charges Wednesday failed to find those charges.
The lawsuit contends that Smith posted about the incident on Facebook in July 17, 2019, using false information in addition to the news release from the police.
The posts caused harm to Hawkins' reputation and emotional distress, according to the lawsuit, as the false information was repeated by media outlets.
On July 18, Counseling Education Center Inc. informed Hawkins of her termination as a foster parent, citing the post from Smith, the lawsuit said. When confronted by the lack of charges filed against her, the business fired Hawkins over a 1990 theft by receiving charge that was dismissed, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiff contends that she is a victim of sexual discriminated by Smith, the Police Department and the counseling center; was held against her will by police without proper justification; was falsely arrested; and was defamed by Smith and the Police Department.
Hawkins has requested a jury trial.
Counseling and Education Center Inc., the city of Helena-West Helena, Kevin Smith, Phillips County Development Center and the Arkansas Department of Human Services are listed as defendants.