EL DORADO — Entertainment promoter Mark Givens has filed a federal wrongful-termination lawsuit against his former employer, the Murphy Arts District.
In the suit — filed June 10 in U.S. District Court, Western District of Arkansas by Givens’ attorney, David Price — Givens describes his time at the arts district and details about activity that he said occurred behind the scenes of the private nonprofit organization, all wrapped in, as stated in the lawsuit, “the old adage of sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
The lawsuit follows the arts district’s announcement of the headliners for MusicFest XXXII, which is set for Sept. 27 and 28 in downtown El Dorado. Booking musical acts for MusicFest and other arts district events was Givens’ primary role as former vice president of talent and relations for the arts district.
Givens went to work for the arts district in late 2016, leaving his 10-year post as executive director of Main Street El Dorado.
His first major assignment was to book talent for the five-day grand opening celebration of the arts district in late September and early October of 2017.
Givens was terminated from his position on Sept. 14, 2018, a day after he was arrested for public intoxication, stemming from an incident in which Givens allegedly commandeered a taxi that had driven him home from the district’s dining and entertainment complex while he was reportedly intoxicated.
According to El Dorado police reports, the owner of El Dorado Taxi said that an employee of the Griffin Restaurant called for service, instructed him to drive Givens home and handed him Givens’ keys.
The taxi driver said that when he helped Givens to the front door of Givens’ former residence in the 2300 block of Pathway, Givens shoved him into the residence and drove away in the taxi, striking the driver as he backed out of the driveway.
A short time later, police found the taxi at the intersection of West Main and Oak Valley with Givens asleep inside.
The owner of the taxi business declined medical attention and said he did not want to pursue criminal charges against Givens.
After further investigation, El Dorado police arrested Givens on warrants for second-degree battery, leaving the scene of an accident with injury, theft of property (motor vehicle) and robbery.
In the federal lawsuit and a civil suit that Givens previously filed — and later dropped — against El Dorado Festival and Events, Inc., which does business as the Murphy Arts District, Givens said he learned of his termination days later, after checking in to an in-patient alcohol treatment and rehabilitation facility in Ouachita County.
He said the news was delivered by his now-former wife and he said in the lawsuit he has not received notice from his employer.
Givens is seeking judgment for attorney’s fees, court costs, punitive damages and “all other relief,” arguing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 — which, according to the lawsuit, recognizes alcoholism as a disease — and, but not limited to, the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.
Additionally, Givens filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March.
Price told the News-Times last fall that the civil suit was dropped to take the matter to federal court.
Givens has maintained that the arts district’s officials were aware that he had a drinking problem when they hired him.
“El Dorado Festivals and Events continues to deny and reject the allegations and numerous misstatements in Mr. Givens’ filing,” Bob Tarren, chief marketing officer for the arts district, wrote in a statement when reached for comment about the pending suit.
“We look forward to the opportunity to represent the facts of the matter in the appropriate forum. As this is an ongoing legal and personnel issue, (EFE) will have no further comment at this time,” Tarren continued.
The arts district is being represented by the Little Rock law firm of Friday, Eldredge & Clark.