Edward Barnes, of Islip Terrace, holds a picture of the...

Edward Barnes, of Islip Terrace, holds a picture of the cardboard box desk he was initially forced to use after being demoted. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

A Suffolk County public works employee is suing the county and his former supervisor for more than $4 million over allegations he was unfairly demoted and harassed following a failed business deal with his boss.

Edward Barnes, 52, of Islip Terrace, said he was stripped of his duties and relegated to a warehouse desk without a computer following a 2022 dispute with former public works director of building maintenance and operations Craig Rhodes, according to a complaint filed in state Supreme Court on April 4.

“It’s horrible; I’ve been sitting in exile over a year,” Barnes told Newsday. Barnes earned $92,628 in 2023, according to county payroll records.

He is seeking $4.06 million in damages, plus lost wages and to be named the assistant director of public works, a title he previously held on a provisional basis.

Suffolk County spokesman Mike Martino said county officials cannot comment on pending litigation. Rhodes, who retired earlier this year, could not be reached for comment.

Barnes said in 2016 he and Rhodes each invested $50,000 to purchase Barnes’ home for use as a rental property. Barnes, however, was forced to sell the house as part of his divorce agreement, according to the lawsuit.

Rhodes demanded to be paid back in monthly $1,200 installments, which Barnes did from 2016 until 2022 paying him a total of $60,000, according to the complaint. Rhodes also asked Barnes to take out a life insurance policy and name Rhodes as the beneficiary, which he did.

Barnes said the harassment began when he stopped making the $1,200 payments in November 2022. Rhodes told him, “You’ll be done paying when I say you’re done paying,” according to the complaint.

Barnes, who was serving as an interim assistant director until May, said Rhodes changed the job title requirements, which opened the Civil Service exam to employees with less seniority, one of whom was awarded the permanent position.

In July, Barnes was moved to a warehouse where he sat on a metal folding chair, he said. Initially he had just a cardboard box for a desk. He said Rhodes also took away his county work vehicle and turned off his access card for county buildings.

“He’s effectively on garden leave employment all the while the taxpayers are paying his salary,” said Barnes' attorney, Brett Gallaway, partner at the Manhattan law firm McLaughlin & Stern LLP.

“I would equate this to a public works version of the movie 'Office Space,' ” Gallaway said, referring to the 1999 movie in which an employee is repeatedly mistreated before management moves his desk to the company’s basement.

Representatives of the Association of Municipal Employees, the union that represents Barnes and represented Rhodes, declined to comment.

According to the complaint, during an August interview with county officials known as an “examination under oath,” Barnes accused Rhodes of retaliatory behavior, as well as taking kickbacks from county vendors. The county did not act against Rhodes and instead filed what the complaint called “frivolous” disciplinary charges against Barnes. Barnes was suspended for 30 days without pay pending a hearing, according to a complaint.

Rhodes retired before undergoing the same interview process, according to the complaint.

Barnes in 2011 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gambling charge. Prosecutors had alleged he used county vehicles to deliver sports bets. He said the criminal charge had nothing to do with the current lawsuit.

A Suffolk County public works employee is suing the county and his former supervisor for more than $4 million over allegations he was unfairly demoted and harassed following a failed business deal with his boss.

Edward Barnes, 52, of Islip Terrace, said he was stripped of his duties and relegated to a warehouse desk without a computer following a 2022 dispute with former public works director of building maintenance and operations Craig Rhodes, according to a complaint filed in state Supreme Court on April 4.

“It’s horrible; I’ve been sitting in exile over a year,” Barnes told Newsday. Barnes earned $92,628 in 2023, according to county payroll records.

He is seeking $4.06 million in damages, plus lost wages and to be named the assistant director of public works, a title he previously held on a provisional basis.

Suffolk County spokesman Mike Martino said county officials cannot comment on pending litigation. Rhodes, who retired earlier this year, could not be reached for comment.

Barnes said in 2016 he and Rhodes each invested $50,000 to purchase Barnes’ home for use as a rental property. Barnes, however, was forced to sell the house as part of his divorce agreement, according to the lawsuit.

Rhodes demanded to be paid back in monthly $1,200 installments, which Barnes did from 2016 until 2022 paying him a total of $60,000, according to the complaint. Rhodes also asked Barnes to take out a life insurance policy and name Rhodes as the beneficiary, which he did.

Barnes said the harassment began when he stopped making the $1,200 payments in November 2022. Rhodes told him, “You’ll be done paying when I say you’re done paying,” according to the complaint.

Barnes, who was serving as an interim assistant director until May, said Rhodes changed the job title requirements, which opened the Civil Service exam to employees with less seniority, one of whom was awarded the permanent position.

In July, Barnes was moved to a warehouse where he sat on a metal folding chair, he said. Initially he had just a cardboard box for a desk. He said Rhodes also took away his county work vehicle and turned off his access card for county buildings.

“He’s effectively on garden leave employment all the while the taxpayers are paying his salary,” said Barnes' attorney, Brett Gallaway, partner at the Manhattan law firm McLaughlin & Stern LLP.

“I would equate this to a public works version of the movie 'Office Space,' ” Gallaway said, referring to the 1999 movie in which an employee is repeatedly mistreated before management moves his desk to the company’s basement.

Representatives of the Association of Municipal Employees, the union that represents Barnes and represented Rhodes, declined to comment.

According to the complaint, during an August interview with county officials known as an “examination under oath,” Barnes accused Rhodes of retaliatory behavior, as well as taking kickbacks from county vendors. The county did not act against Rhodes and instead filed what the complaint called “frivolous” disciplinary charges against Barnes. Barnes was suspended for 30 days without pay pending a hearing, according to a complaint.

Rhodes retired before undergoing the same interview process, according to the complaint.

Barnes in 2011 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gambling charge. Prosecutors had alleged he used county vehicles to deliver sports bets. He said the criminal charge had nothing to do with the current lawsuit.

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