RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A former deputy has filed a lawsuit against Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker, claiming the firing was about retaliation for demoting one of Baker’s friends.

Richard Johnson filed the lawsuit this week. He was among dozens of employees fired or reassigned after Baker took office in late 2018.

Johnson served as chief of operations for the sheriff’s office at the time he lost his job. He first started working for the agency in 1976 until he retired in 2000. Former Sheriff Donnie Harrison asked him to return to the office in 2003.

In the lawsuit, Johnson cites an incident before Baker took office when another deputy, Teddy Patrick, made inappropriate comments during a training seminar, which 44 deputies attended.

“During that in-service training session, Patrick made several homophobic and discriminatory statements about homosexual persons,” according to the lawsuit. “In addition, during this same in-service training session, Patrick (who is African-American) made several comments that were racially inappropriate and discriminatory in nature.”

Johnson says he and former Sheriff Harrison demoted Patrick following that incident, resulting in a pay cut and loss of supervisory authority.

After that demotion, Johnson says Patrick went on trips with Baker to the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the Caribbean, describing the pair as “close friends and confidants.”

After Baker defeated Harrison in the 2018 election, he promoted Patrick twice and declined to have Johnson re-sworn as a deputy.

Johnson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2019. He received a letter from the EEOC on Oct. 14, 2019, informing him of his right to sue.

When contacted by CBS 17, Johnson declined to comment on the lawsuit. His attorney, Joe Zeszotarski, has not replied to a request for comment.

CBS 17 reached out to the sheriff for comment. Baker responded with:

“The Sheriff’s Office has not had a chance to review the complaint filed by the plaintiff. However, Sheriff Baker’s position has been, and continues to be, that these matters should be handled in the court system where all the facts are brought forth, and are not litigated or sensationalized in the media.”

Last January, after Baker faced criticism on the various firings and reassignments, he said, “They were terminated because I did not have the confidence in them to follow and implement my policies moving forward.”

“My promotion of Captain Patrick was made after examining his entire work record, including a review of the training event that is in question,” Baker said.