The City of Franklin, Tennessee has settled a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against it by Joe Williams, a former City Solid Waste Director, according to an article in the Tennessean. The settlement amount included a payment of $2,000,000.00 and a formal apology to Mr. Williams from the Mayor of Franklin. Due to the City’s open meeting rules, the terms of the settlement became public record when set for approval by the city aldermen.
The crux of the lawsuit involved the alleged downloading of pornography on City computers under the control of Mr. Williams. According to facts developed during the lawsuit, it was clear that any pornographic images were the result of spam e-mail. According to the plaintiff, this would have been readily apparent had the City bothered to do a rudimentary check of the computer system and the images in question. However, the City jumped right to action, publicized the allegations and promptly fired Mr. Williams after a brief, eight minute hearing. Once the source of the images was discovered and it was shown that the City did not perform their due diligence in determining an appropriate plan of action to deal with the allegations, the settlement was not far behind.
The lawsuit mixes a couple of different areas of law and potential actions. First, Tennessee is a right to work State. That means generally you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, as long as you are not fired for an inappropriate reason, such as religious beliefs, race, gender, national origin or age. Secondly, the lawsuit touched upon workplace harassment and hostile environments. Hostile environments are not limited to physically threatening environments; they also include workplaces that are hostile because they promote a culture of sexual harassment or religious, cultural or racial bias. Thirdly, and likely more directly, the lawsuit also included libel and slander issues arising from the publicity involved in “exposing” the plaintiff’s alleged accessing of pornographic images. Since the actual allegations were unfounded and proven so after a very simple check of the computer system, the disgrace of portraying the plaintiff in this bad light and the effects that had on his relationship with family and friends played heavily in the settlement.
The attorneys at the Higgins Firm represent individuals who have been the victim of workplace discrimination or harassment. If you feel you have been the victim of sexual, racial, age or religious harassment, contact our law office for a free consultation.