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Bluff City seeks dismissal of federal lawsuit filed by mayor, ex-employees

March 22nd, 2014 12:18 am by Matthew Lane

Bluff City seeks dismissal of federal lawsuit filed  by  mayor, ex-employees

GREENEVILLE — The town of Bluff City is seeking a dismissal of a federal lawsuit filed by its current mayor and two former employees who claim town officials discriminated against them because they are African-American.

Mayor Irene Wells, former police officer Lee McClintock and former public works employee Milton Boyd filed the lawsuit in Sullivan County Chancery Court in February, naming Bluff City, City Manager Judy Dulaney and the aldermen as defendants.

The case has since been transferred to U.S. District Court in Greeneville.

The lawsuit claims Wells, McClintock and Boyd were victims of racial discrimination by the defendants. The defendants filed a motion for dismissal earlier this month, claiming the plaintiffs are time barred from filing a lawsuit.

Wells and former Aldermen J.C. Gentry and Mark Weaver appointed Wells mayor at a called BMA meeting three days before Gentry and Weaver left office in mid-2011. Town voters had rejected Gentry's re-election bid in May of that year and Weaver did not seek re-election. Their terms expired June 30, 2011.

On July 1, 2011, new BMA members elected in May officially took office, joining Wells and two aldermen who were halfway through their own four-year terms.

At the first meeting of the new board that night, a called meeting that Wells refused to recognize as legitimate, Aldermen Melvin Carrier, Robert Miller and newcomer Bryan Mullins voted to name Lon Gene Leonard — a former BMA member elected to a new term by voters in May — as the town's vice mayor.

In the lawsuit, Wells claims the aldermen met secretly prior to this July 1 meeting and decided these actions in advance.

A majority of the board later voted to name Leonard as the BMA's designee for signing checks and eventually named Dulaney, serving as city recorder/finance director at the time, to also serve as city manager.

Wells has voiced discontent with those and other decisions, which left her with little authority as mayor.

According to the lawsuit, Wells claims Dulaney destroyed Boyd's position by placing another person over him and by paying him more money than Boyd.

In addition, the new supervisor, who is white, was given a vehicle to drive home and the title of public works director, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs are seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages from the defendants and $100,000 in punitive damages against Dulaney. The lawsuit seeks to have check-signing powers returned to Wells, and an injunction against Bluff City and its aldermen to take two of the jobs away from Dulaney to protect the town and the taxpayers and to comply with the city charter.

Wells filed a complaint against Bluff City with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011, but after an investigation, both agencies dismissed Wells' complaint in December 2012. The THRC and EEOC dismissed a similar complaint from McClintock.

In December 2012, Wells, McClintock and Boyd filed suit in Sullivan County Chancery Court, but voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit in April 2013, saying they would be going the federal route.

Bluff City argues the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim, have presented no undisputed material facts supportive of the claims raised ,and have failed to file a lawsuit in a timely manner.

The THRC and EEOC recommended the plaintiffs file either a state lawsuit within 30 days or a federal lawsuit within 90 days. However, it has been more than a year since Wells received noticed from the two agencies; McClintock more than 170 days.

Boyd voluntarily retired from Bluff City employment in November 2012 and never filed any claims with the THRC and EEOC, Dulaney states in an affidavit. Boyd's claims are time barred since it has been more than a year since he retired, the motion to dismiss states.

In addition, Bluff City points out that in the 2012 lawsuit, Wells did not raise a claim she had been discriminated against based on her race.

A trial date has not been scheduled.

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