Former Kingsport employee files wrongful termination suit

Matthew Lane • May 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

A former Kingsport employee fired for using a city-owned backhoe for personal use has filed a $100,000 federal lawsuit against the Model City and seeks to be reinstated to his former position.

Claude Hall, a 22-year employee for the city of Kingsport, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville earlier this month. Hall, who worked as a wastewater plant operator, claims the city singled him out for punitive termination and engaged in age discrimination.

Hall is seeking $100,000 in damages and to be reinstated to his former position with back pay and sufficient time to allow him to retire with full benefits.

The lawsuit stems from Hall’s termination in August 2006 after the use of a city-owned backhoe in May of that year.

According to the lawsuit, following an improvement project at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, the contractor for the project offered a pile of excess sawdust to Hall, which he accepted.

Hall claims his immediate supervisor had no problem with him taking the sawdust, and when he asked other employees if they would load the sawdust into the back of his pickup truck with a backhoe, no concerns were raised.

The third and final request Hall made for the backhoe was to Ronnie Hammonds, streets and sanitation supervisor, who told him the request was not appropriate. Hall said at no time after this did he make any request for the backhoe.

In July 2006, Hall was placed on administrative leave with pay, and in August 2006 a written recommendation to terminate his employment was made by the city’s human resources department. Hall claims the investigation consisted of talking to two employees and accepting written statements from Hammonds.

In a letter dated Aug. 8, 2006, Hall was terminated because he engaged city employees to use city equipment to load sawdust in a personal vehicle in direct violation with the city’s conflict-ofinterest guidelines.

Hall claims he made no further requests once he learned his actions were likely in violation of city policy. The lawsuit states Hall was given no chance to correct his actions and was terminated for a non-fireable offense.

In addition, at a grievance hearing in August 2006, Richard Gilliam, sewer maintenance crew leader, testified he did not believe using the backhoe to load the sawdust onto Hill’s truck was against city policy.

Hall claims the city “arbitrarily and capriciously” violated his rights by singling him out for punitive termination. Hall also claims age discrimination due to the city not terminating younger employees for the same or similar offenses.

Dave Light, assistant to the city manager, said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

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