- The discrimination complaint concerns a laid-off employee with a cerebral pasly
- Another plaintiff said to ignore comments on sexual harassment
- The lawsuit accuses the clerk of using the office for background checks for tenants
- The clerk was also accused of allowing the illegal commissioner to operate
Two dismissed employees of the Rutherford County Circuit Court Clerk allege in a lawsuit that they lost their jobs because they complained about discrimination and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday on behalf of plaintiffs Nicholas Trail and Stephen LeQuire by attorneys Michelle Howser of Murfreesboro and Jesse Ford Harbison of Nashville, accuses Melissa Harrell, the court clerk-elect, of violating the Tennessee Human Rights Act.
Harrell has committed and condoned discriminatory acts and retaliation against employees, alleges a lawsuit in Rutherford County Chancery Court.
Harrell is also a defendant in a NAACP lawsuit, filed on Dec. 3, alleging that she levied a tax of $ 25 per sentence on those who convicted crimes and tried to restore voting rights.
Harrell and District Attorney Nick Christiansen were left phone messages Monday morning, but they could not be commented on.
CONNECTED:Tennesseans with convicted crimes want a streamlined way to vote
Plaintiffs are filing for legal action to seek compensation for lost wages after dismissal and legal fees. Harrell fired them in January after filing complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Discrimination affects laid-off employees with cerebral palsy
The lawsuit mentions the discriminatory treatment of Trail, a man who lives with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects his movement and speech.
As a former employee of the Circuit Court Clerk, Trail served as an accountant for the Juvenile Court from November 2016, with duties that included attending court proceedings twice a week.
Trail then learned from his supervisor, Malinee Eagle, an assistant chief deputy, that “Harrell has instructed them not to admit Mr. Trail to court because of his apparent disability,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also accused Harrell of describing Trail in an abusive way, saying that she “cannot understand what this disabled (expletive) person is saying”.
After hiring Trail, Harrell hired a close personal friend as an accountant and paid that person 21% more than the plaintiff for similar work, the lawsuit said.
Harrell “resigned Mr. Trail because of his disability,” the lawsuit said. It also accused Harrell of trying to hold Trail accountable for two missing checks, despite several other employees and a supervisor also handling the purse that was missing the checks.
“Specifically. Mr. Trail refused to participate or remain silent in Ms. Harrell’s attempt to force him to sign the Personal Liability Policy,” the lawsuit said. “Mr. Trail refused to sign the Personal Liability Policy because it had no limit on employee liability and could therefore violate the Fair Labor Law.”
The plaintiff says he was asked to ignore harassing comments
Among other allegations, the lawsuit accuses Harrell of firing LeQuire in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment comments from female employees.
He had been a deputy employee starting May 2018 through November 2020.
“This harassment was uninterrupted and continued until Mr LeQuire’s unlawful dismissal,” the lawsuit said. “The harassment was undesirable and made Mr. LeQuire extremely angry, embarrassed and uncomfortable.”
When LeQuire tried to complain, he was told by deputy assistant Vickie Dutton that “reporting the harassment would cause him problems and ignore the harassment,” the lawsuit said.
However, LeQuire filed a complaint on August 22, 2019 and then faced retaliation, which included falsely charged with minor violations and stripped of many of his responsibilities.
“This retaliation was ongoing and lasted until Mr. LeQuire’s unlawful dismissal,” the lawsuit said.
LeQuire also accused Harrell of allowing an illegal superintendent (supermarket) to work at work, in violation of the county’s policy of buying food and drink through the county’s purchasing committee or mayor.
When auditors from the Treasury Department’s Tennessee Comptroller came to visit, Harrell instructed staff to hide evidence for the commissioner in violation of state law.
According to legal proceedings, Harrell used the office to do background checks on their tenants
LeQuire, a former tenant of a rental home in Harrell, had to show photos of potential tenants in order to take over his lease.
“When Mr LeQuire wrote a photo of a certain potential tenant to Mrs Harrell, Mrs Harrell replied by text message: ‘She is disabled ?????’ Ms. Harrell did not rent the apartment to this tenant, “the lawsuit said.
According to the lawsuit, Harrell also told LeQuire that he should “not let the brown lady (who refers to a potential black tenant) back into the (rental) house. Very dangerous.”
The lawsuit also stated that Harrell texted back a photo of a couple who were potential renters, including a Hispanic, “Oh lort !!! (SIC) Domestic Violence.”
Through the lawsuit, LeQuire also accused Harrell of conducting background checks on her prospective tenants at her government office in violation of two state laws, a felony and a misdemeanor.
Reach reporter Scott Broden at [email protected] or 615-278-5158. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.