Former senior center director files civil rights lawsuit against Mount Carmel, alderman

MOUNT CARMEL — A civil rights lawsuit filed in Chancery Court last month against the town of Mount Carmel and an alderman was transferred last week to federal court in Greeneville at the request of the defendants.

Molly Bridwell, who resides on Poplar Street in Mount Carmel, was appointed director of the new municipal Mount Carmel Senior Center as of July 1, 2015, and held that position until the municipal senior center was dissolved earlier this year.

Mrs. Bridwell is also the wife of George Bridwell, who is running for Mount Carmel alderman in the Nov. 8 election.

A lawsuit filed Sept. 16 in Hawkins County Chancery Court by Rogersville attorney Daniel Boyd on behalf of Mrs. Bridwell alleges that during her seven months of employment with the town Mrs. Bridwell was constantly harassed and threatened by Alderman Margaret Christian.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for “humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress.”

Kingsport attorney Curtis Rose, who represents both the town and Mrs. Christian, told the Times-News Thursday both defendants categorically deny all allegations.

Rose said he wouldn’t address the allegations specifically until an official response to the lawsuit has been filed, which could take place as early as next week.

In February of 2015 the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 4-3 to not renew the lease for the original independent Senior Center organization to operate on the second floor of City Hall.

Among those in favor of ousting the original Senior Center at that time was Mayor Larry Frost, and aldermen Paul Hale, Margaret Christian and Eugene Christian.

Mr. and Mrs Christian had been loyal supporters of Mayor Frost from the time he was elected in November of 2012, but that ended this past December, shifting the BMA majority against Mayor Frost.

Subsequently the BMA voted in February to dissolved the new municipal senior center, and brought back the original independent senior center.

The BMA has taken other actions since the board majority changed, such as removing Mayor Frosts powers to hire, fire and discipline town employees; reversing his decision to fire police chief Jeff Jackson, and most recently reversing his decision to reinstate fired police officer Phillip Robinette.

In the lawsuit Mrs. Bridwell alleges that beginning on July 6, 2015 Mrs. Christian “began making harassing and threatening comments to (Mrs. Bridwell) almost on a daily basis. Thereafter, for a number of months (Mrs. Christian) used her position as councilwoman in an effort to control the conduct of (Mrs. Bridwell) and the day-to-day business of the Mount Carmel Senior Center.”

Mrs. Bridwell alleges that on multiple occasions she reported Margaret Christian’s actions to Mayor Frost, and neither the mayor nor any other town officials acted on the complaints.

The lawsuit alleges that Christian attempted to control programs and use of the facility by using her authority as an alderman.

The lawsuit further alleges, “(Mrs. Bridwell) shows that she did nothing to incite or encourage the harassment, and she avers that is was based on defendant Christian’s hatred of (Mrs. Bridwell), and her desire for control of the town of Mount Carmel Senior Center.”

On the complaint Boyd alleges that the “hostile working environment” created by Mrs. Christian violated the Tennessee Human Rights Act and the Federal Civil rights Act.

As a result of the federal civil rights allegation, Rose and Mount Carmel City Attorney John Pevy petitioned the Chancery Court earlier this month to transfer the lawsuit to U.S. District Court in Greeneville.

The federal court transfer order was signed Oct. 7.                                                                  

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