A woman who was relieved of her duties by Cannon County Sheriff Darrell Young on his first day on the job is suing the sheriff and the county.
The women, Loretta Bailey, worked as a receptionist at the department under former Sheriff Billy Nichols.
She is suing the county for $250,000 and Young individually for $150,000.
Bailey was not among the half dozen employees Nichols laid off the last day of his administration (August 31, 2010) for the reason of “change of administration.”
All of those employees received payment for accrued vacation time and also received unemployment compensation. Bailey received $741.60 for accrued vacation time and has been drawing jobless benefits.
Bailey claims in the lawsuit that Sheriff Young allegedly violated her First Amendment and civil rights when he terminated her.
Bailey is asserting Sheriff Young fired her because she supported Nichols in both the 2006 and 2010 elections.
Bailey also alleges that Cannon County has “over an extended period of years, has been deliberately indifferent to political patronage hirings and firings by sheriffs and other state constitutional office holders…”
Several persons who supported Nichols during his 2010 bid for re-election continue to work at the department under Sheriff Young
Bailey is seeking a jury trial. The suit was filed March 28 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. An initial case management conference is scheduled for June 6.
Steven Waldron of Waldron & Fann in Murfreesboro is representing Bailey. Mike Corley will represent Cannon County and Sheriff Young.
Details of the lawsuit are:
CANNON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, THE CANNON COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT and DARRELL YOUNG in his individual and occupational capacities,
JUDISDICTION AND VENUE
1. This is a civil action for damages brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 as a consequence of deprivations under color of law, of Plaintiff’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
2. This Court has proper jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331 and §1343. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1391(b).
3. Plaintiff has been a citizen of Cannon County, Tennessee at all times pertinent to the facts of this cause.
4. Cannon County, Tennessee is a political subdivision of the state of Tennessee. The Cannon County Sheriff’s Department is a department/division of Cannon County, Tennessee.
5. Darrell Young has been a resident of Cannon County, Tennessee at all times pertinent to the facts of this cause.
6. At times pertinent to the facts of this cause, Defendant Darrell Young was acting as an agent of Defendant Cannon County, Tennessee.
7. Defendant Young is being sued individually and in his capacity as Sheriff of Cannon County, Tennessee.
8. Plaintiff was hired by the Cannon County Sheriff’s Department on or about September 8, 20006, by Sheriff Billy H. Nichols and was employed there until September 1, 2010.
9. While employed at the Cannon County Sheriff’s Department, Plaintiff performed clerical, payroll, bookkeeping and receptionist and general office duties.
10. Plaintiff worked there three days per week for the Cannon County Sheriff’s Department until she became a full-time employee in January of 2009.
11. Sheriff Nichols was opposed in the 2006 Sheriff’s election by Defendant Darrell Young.
12. Plaintiff openily campaigned in favor of Sheriff Nichols, including, but not limited to, her placement of a sign in her yard at her residence.
13. Plaintiff was the only resident on her street to have a yard sign in favor of Sheriff Nichols when he ran against Young in 2006.
14. Defendant Young was aware of Plaintiff’s support of Sheriff Nichols in 2006.
15. The most recent sheriff’s election in Cannon County took place on August 5, 2010.
16. In the most recent sheriff’s election, Defendant Young defeated Sheriff Billy H. Nichols, Howard Mike Grosch, Jack Miller and Kenneth D. (Kenny) Wetzel.
17. Plaintiff openly and actively campaigned for Sheriff Billy H. Nichols in the most recent Cannon County sheriff’s election including, but not limited to, her placement of a sign in the yard at her residence, and the windshield of her vehicle.
18. Defendant Young was aware prior to September 1, 2010, of Plaintiff’s having supported Sheriff Nichols in the 2006 election and the 2010 election.
19. Defendant Young was sworn in as Sheriff of Cannon County on the morning of September 1, 2010.
20. Prior to being elected as Sheriff of Cannon County, Defendant Young had held the position of Assistant Chief of Police of Woodbury, Tennessee.
21. Prior to becoming Assistant Chief of Police in the town of Woodbury, Defendant Young had held a position as a Woodbury City police officer since 1992.
22. Woodbury is the County seat for Cannon County, Tennessee.
23. On information and belief, it is submitted that Woodbury’s population is approximately 2,500.00 and the population of Cannon County, Tennessee is approximately 13,500.00
24. Early on the morning of September 1, 2010, before Plaintiff had had the opportunity to begin her work day, she was handed by Defendant Young a termination letter that is attached hereto and marked as Exhibit A to this Complaint.
25. At the time Defendant Young handed Plaintiff the termination notice marked as Exibit B hereto, early in the morning on September 1, 2010, she asked Defendant Young if he wanted her to leave immediately and he replied “yes.” That conservation is all the communication that ever transpired between the parties relative to Plaintiff’s termination on September 1, 2010.
26. Attached hereto as Exhibit B to the Complaint is a Separation Notice signed by Defendant Young that was submitted to the State of Tennessee, Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Division of Employment Security. It states that Plaintiff was discharged with the following explanation: “Due to new administration service is no longer needed.”
27. Even though Plaintiff was 69 years old at the time of her termination, she had planned to continue working for an extended period of time because she enjoyed her work and being a productive employee of the Cannon County Sheriff’s Department.
28. Prior to Plaintiff’s termination, she had never been disciplined in any way by her employer since her date of hire by the Cannon County Sheriff’s Department.
29. Plaintiff’s termination by Defendant Young has constituted the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s lost wages, income, benefits and the loss of opportunity to earn income and benefits.
30. Plaintiff’s termination has also caused her great humiliation, embarrassment, mental suffering and mental anguish.
COUNT 1 – PLAINTIFF’S CLAIM AGAINST DEFENDANTS FOR VIOLATION OF HER CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS:
31. Plaintiff incorporates by reference all previous allegations made herein.
32. Plaintiff hereby assets a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 alleging Defendants violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by terminating her based upon her political affiliation with Sheriff Nichols and her support for his candidacy against Defendant Young.
33. At all times relevant to this litigation while Plaintiff was employed by the Cannon County Sheriff’s Department, she worked in a non-policy making position, and this continued to be true through the time she was terminated by Defendant Young.
34. Plaintiff’s termination by Defendant Young was solely because she had supported Sheriff Nichols and/or because she had not supported Defendant Young’s candidacy.
35. Alternatively, Plaintiff submits that her termination by Defendants was motivated in substantial part by her support of the candidacy of Sheriff Nichols and/or her failure to support Defendant Young.
36. By her support for Sheriff Nichols in his two campaigns against Defendant Young, Plaintiff engaged in conduct that was protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
37. Plaintiff’s support of Sheriff Nichols was known by Defendant Young prior to his termination of Plaintiff.
38. The termination of Plaintiff by Defendants constitutes conduct that is sufficient to deter a person or ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in political activity of the type engaged by the Plaintiff.
39. Plaintiff’s engaging in constitutionally protected conduct was, at a minimum, a “substantial or motivating factor” in Defendant Young’s decision to terminate her.
40. Plaintiff’s having engaged in constitutionally protected political activity, as stated previously herein, constitutes the “but for” cause for her termination.
41. Defendant Young was acting under color of state law at the time her terminated Plaintiff immediately upon taking the office of Cannon County Sheriff early in the morning of September 1, 2010.
42. Plaintiff’s termination by Defendant Young was accomplished pursuant to local government policy or custom, which constitutes the cause in fact of Plaintiff’s constitutional deprivation.
43. On information and belief, Plaintiff submits that Defendant Cannon County, Tennessee, over an extended period of years, has been deliberately indifferent to political patronage hirings and firings by sheriffs and other state constitutional office holders such as the termination of Plaintiff as described herein.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff demands damages against the Defendants, individually, jointly and severely, for back pay, the value of lost unemployment benefits, humiliation and embarrassment, mental pain and suffering, mental anguish and prejudgment interest in the amount of TWO HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND AND NO/100 DOLLARS ($250,000.00), and she further that she be reinstated to the position she held until she was terminated by Defendant Young with pay and all benefits being reinstated as though she was never terminated. Alternatively, if her employment is not reinstated, Plaintiff seeks an award of ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS ($175,000.00) for front pay along with an award of attorney’s fees, and litigation expenses in addition to an award of backpay, value of lost benefits and damages for humiliation and embarrassment, pain and suffering, mental anguish and prejudgment interest. Plaintiff also seeks an award of attorney’s fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1986(b) and an award of expert witness fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988(c).
COUNT II: PLAINTFF’S CLAIM FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES AGAINST DEFENDANT YOUNG:
44. Plaintiff incorporates by references all previous allegations made herein.
45. Defendant Young, prior to taking office as Cannon County Sheriff on September 1, 2010, had been a police officer with the Woodbury City Police Department since 1992 and was assistant Chief of Police for many years preceding September 1, 2010.
46. Prior to his termination of Plaintiff on September 1, 2010, Defendant Young either knew or should have known that Plaintiff’s political activities for his political opponent were protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
47. The United States Supreme Court Opinion in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62, 110 S.Ct. 2729 (1990), which established that adverse employment actions based in whole or in substantial part on political affiliation or support are impermissible infringements on public employees’ First Amendment rights, and further that conditioning hiring or employment retention decisions on political belief and association violates the First Amendment rights of current and prospective employees.
48. Defendant Young's rermination of Plaintiff was done by him willfully and with intent to violate Plantiff's civil rights.
49. Defendant Young’s termination of Plaintiff was done with reckless and/or callous indifference to Plaintiff’s federally protected constitutional rights.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff demands punitive damages against Defendant Young, individually, in the amount of ONE HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND AND NO/100 DOLLARS ($150,000.00), plus prejudgment interest, and that said sum(s) shall be in addition to other damages awarded. Additionally, Plaintiff seeks an award of attorney’s fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988(b) and an award of expert witness fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988(c).
DEMAND FOR TRIAL BY JURY:
Pursuant to Rule 38(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Plaintiff hereby demands a trial by jury in this action for all issues so triable.
R. STEVEN WALDRON, BPR #2767
Attorney for Plaintiff
WALDRON & FANN
202 W. Main St.
Murfreesboro, TN 37130