Rutherford County Courthouse. (Photo: Rutherford County Facebook)
Two men terminated by the Rutherford County Circuit Court Clerk, one of them disabled with cerebral palsy, are claiming they were wrongfully fired after suffering harassment and discrimination.
Nicholas Trail, who has the physical disability, and Stephen LaQuire filed the lawsuit Thursday, March 4, in Rutherford County Chancery Court against Court Clerk Melissa Harrell, saying she violated the state’s Human Rights Act, Disability Act and Public Protection Act.
Together, they claim Harrell discriminated against them and others, used her office computer for outside work and allowed an illegal business to be run in the office and even covered it up when the state comptroller’s office visited.
Trail, who was hired as a bookkeeper in November 2016, alleges he was supposed to attend court proceedings twice a week but almost immediately had that responsibility stripped because of his disability, according to the filing.
The defendant claims Harrell and another office worker made “derogatory” remarks about his disability, with Harrell at one point saying she “can’t understand what disabled mother—— says.” The filing claims his direct supervisor said Trail was a “high-risk liability” to Harrell because of his disability and that she never should have hired him.
In addition, Trail claims Harrell gave a female employee preferential treatment, including higher pay, because she was the daughter of a friend, even though he had more education and financial training.
In August 2020, Harrell and Trail’s supervisor wrote him up because a bank deposit bag was allegedly missing two checks, according to the filing. Yet other people had handled the bag, the lawsuit contends.
Trail then refused to sign a document holding him personally liable for missing checks because it did not cap the amount he could be penalized for alleged errors, the filing says.
Harrell then allegedly singled him out and tried to force him to sign the paper and in September gave him a final warning for failing to make sure credit card payments were “receipted” into the office’s account. She did not discipline a female employee who held the same job responsibility, according to the lawsuit.
On Nov. 11, Trail filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and five days later Harrell fired him for failing to “receipt” credit card payments.
LeQuire, who started working at the office in May 2018 before being fired Nov. 16, 2020, claims he was sexually harassed by numerous female employees in the department, mainly by an employee who allegedly showed him a photo of her boyfriend’s genitals, graphically described sex acts and told him about wearing “vibrating panties” so she could become aroused at work.
One female co-worker allegedly described her genitalia hair to him and another “stamped” his buttocks with a rubber stamp at the office, according to the lawsuit.
LeQuire, who rented a house from Harrell at one point, claims she ordered him to find another tenant when he wanted to move out but sent text messages complaining that one potential renter was disabled. According to the filing, she also instructed him not to “let the brown lady [referring to a black prospective tenant] back into [the rental] house. Very dangerous.”
When he sent her a text photo of other prospective tenants, one of them Hispanic, she texted back “Oh lort!!! [sic] Domestic violence,” the filing claims.
LeQuire also alleged that Harrell used her office computer to run background checks on potential tenants and allowed an employee to run a “commissary” at the office selling snacks, in violation of the Rutherford County Purchasing Act. Yet when state comptroller’s investigators came to the office, she instructed employees to hide the evidence, a potential Class C misdemeanor, according to the lawsuit.
LeQuire also raised concerns that the deputy clerk’s cash drawer was not secured at the end of work days.
When LeQuire complained about the sexual harassment, he was told not to report it because it would “cause problems” for him, according to the lawsuit.
He finally complained about harassment and his work situation changed, according to the filing. His desk was moved, his time card was doctored, he was disciplined on false charges, his responsibilities were stripped, and he was accused of gossiping while other employees who gossiped were not punished, according to the lawsuit.
LeQuire was terminated, and he too filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Both are seeking compensatory damages at trial, as well as back pay, other relief, costs and attorney fees.
Harrell did not answer a call to her cell phone when a reporter sought comment Friday evening. Rutherford County’s government attorneys do not comment on pending litigation.
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