Former employee accuses Greene County County Clerk of forcing he - WNCT

Former employee accuses Greene County County Clerk of forcing her into sexual relationship

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GREENE COUNTY, TN (WJHL) -

A former Greene County employee has filed discrimination complaints with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Greene County accusing her former boss, County Clerk David Thompson, of sexual harassment and making her work in a hostile environment; claims Thompson denies.

The elected official and Greene County now have until August 15th to respond to the allegations.

At the advice of his attorney, Thompson, who was first elected County Clerk back in 2006, is not saying much about the allegations. However, he says they are unfounded.

"All I can say right now is that the truth will come out in court, I suppose, if need be," Thompson said. "I'm not supposed to comment on these allegations any further."

Former Deputy Clerk Michelle Burke filed the complaints over the last two months. However, her attorney says neither she nor Burke will comment about the allegations.

"I just don't feel comfortable commenting," attorney Sandra Lee Stanberry said.

The eight-page complaint, obtained by News Channel 11, outlines Burke's allegations.

"From 2008, and continuing up through my termination, I have been sexually harassed, subjected to a hostile work environment and forced to engage in sexual acts to keep my job by David Thompson," the complaint states. "My health and nerves have deteriorated during the last couple years as David Thompson made it abundantly clear if I wanted to keep my job with Greene County, I had to do exactly as he told me to do...David Thompson threatened and eventually caused me to be terminated. I lost my job because of him. His actions also adversely affected my physical and mental health and well-being."

According to the complaint, Burke said Thompson also installed cameras so that he could keep an eye on his other employees in an effort to avoid getting caught when he and Burke were together in his office.

The complaint also said Thompson was the direct reason why she stopped working at the county.

"On August 24, 2012, I was forced to resign or constructively and/or wrongfully discharged by my immediate and hiring supervisor, David Thompson, after denial of my second request for Family Medical Leave in Year 2012 for a medical reason that was unrelated to my first medically-related leave, and protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)," she wrote. "The denial of my second request for FMLA was simply a pretext for David Thompson to terminate me, since he had long ago coerced me into a sexual relationship with him, in exchange for keeping my job."

Despite those written words, Burke's resignation letter, found in her personnel file, suggests she quit on her own terms. She resigned in August 2012.

"I...effectively resign my position as a Deputy Clerk...due to my medical health, as of August 24, 2012," the signed letter dated August 17, 2012 said. "I am unable to perform the duties of my position at this time."

Additionally, a Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development decision regarding Burke's application for unemployment benefits, also found in her personnel file, backs up that statement.

"Claimant was forced to leave most recent work because of non-work related health reasons," the document said. "Medical documentation shows claimant is not able to perform her regular work."

Documents in her file also said Burke re-applied for a job at the clerk's office this year but was not re-hired due to the position already being filled.

There is no indication in her or Thompson's file that neither she nor any other employee has filed any previous complaints against Thompson.

"I did not know what to do," she said in her EEOC complaint as to why she didn't report the allegations sooner. "There is no Greene County Employee Handbook, so I did not know who or how to approach anyone within the Greene County government."

Greene County Attorney Roger Woolsey says he first learned of these allegations three weeks ago, almost 11 months after Burke's resignation, when Burke's attorney called him. Woolsey says he immediately opened an internal investigation.

"Part of our responsibility is that we're to assure a safe workplace to all employees of Greene County, so we started a preliminary investigation," Woolsey said. "Our responsibility to the citizens of Greene County is to ensure that if you go to work for the county that you are going to have a safe workplace. We're not in it to protect Mr. Thompson. We're not in it to try to help Ms. Burke. We're here to try to find the truth."

According to Woolsey, this is the first time in his almost 28 years with the county that any EEOC complaint has been filed against a public official or county employee.

"I've known David for several years and really always thought he was a good county employee and I thought he run a good department, still think he runs a good department, but we are required to investigate and that's what the county will do," Woolsey said. "I think most people would agree he runs a good office, but of course the allegations of this nature are very disturbing and hopefully the truth will come out. We're proud of our county being a safe workplace. I think that we are."

Greene County Commissioner Robin Quillen is demanding the county get to the bottom of this.

"I'm appalled, I'm shocked, I'm embarrassed for the allegations," Quillen said. "I'm still kind of reeling from reading the complaint. It's a sad day for that to have to come out regardless whether the allegations are true or not. It's one of those things that you hope you never have to deal with, especially as a county commissioner. We need to be thinking about what is happening and we need to make sure that the truth comes out and that if these things are happening, we need to definitely do something about it. We just need to seek the truth and do what's right."

As for the allegations themselves, Quillen says it's too early to say whether or not they might be true.

"I don't know why anybody would have any reason to lie, but again, until we find out if these allegations are true, we just have to hope they're not," Quillen said. "If it does come out to be true then we need to deal with it. I don't have any animosity or any bad feelings toward David Thompson. I'm not on one side or the other."

Once Thompson and Greene County respond to the complaint, the EEOC will eventually make a decision about the merit of the allegations.

"The agency has 180 days from the day you filed your complaint to finish its investigation," the EEOC's website says. "The investigation may be extended by another 180 days if new events are added to your complaint or if you file new complaints that must be added to your original complaint for investigation. You also have the right to agree to an extension of up to 90 days...When the investigation is finished, the agency will give you two choices: either request a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge or ask the agency to issue a decision as to whether discrimination occurred."

At the moment, there are no criminal allegations against Thompson and he doesn't expect there to be any.

"(There is no) reason to think there will be criminal charges," Thompson said.

As for Burke, she ran for the position of County Clerk in the May 2006 Democratic Primary but lost to the man who eventually was beat by the Republican, David Thompson.

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