Gender-based lawsuits not limited to UT

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

It seems that the University of Tennessee Athletic Department is not alone when it comes to treating some women less fairly than men. Over $5.5 million has been paid out by UT to make the lawsuits over Title IX gender violations go away.

A few blocks away in the City County Building, it seems that the Metropolitan Planning Commission has been doing similar things to some women on its staff. In fact, Dee Anne Reynolds, who was the chief financial officer before former director Mark Donaldson fired her, filed a lawsuit over an employment retaliation issue from which she is now collecting $800,000.

The wrongful termination occurred June 24, 2014, and the lawsuit was filed almost a year later. Reynolds’ action in assisting a female employee, Elizabeth Albertson, was the cause of her firing. Defendant agreed to “allow judgment to be entered in favor of the plaintiff on all issues raised by her in the Third Amended Complaint.”

The money to pay this comes from an MPC insurance policy with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service pool in Nashville. This policy had been acquired as management concern with Reynolds was growing in 2014. In fact, it was expressly made retroactive so that this ongoing dispute would be covered if litigation occurred.

This writer has learned that Reynolds was fired the same day that the defendant signed the check paying MTAS for the new insurance policy.

It is stunning that no MPC member intervened to find out the facts and question the termination of Reynolds, who was doing her job well. Today under a new law, the director answers to Mayors Rogero and Burchett and not MPC.

No MPC commissioner, male or female, sought an explanation of the lawsuit at an open meeting. Donaldson simply misled the entire commission and perhaps the two mayors.

The new MPC director, Gerald Green, was not there and starts with a clean slate, but he has inherited a legacy of silence. What steps will he, the two mayors and MPC commissioners take to prevent this from occurring again? Steve Wise, MPC attorney, may want to counsel staff and commissioners on this.

Wise insists there is no admission of liability by MPC; however, a casual observer might say there are 800,000 reasons to think otherwise.

Reynolds was smart to get local attorney David Burkhalter to represent her. He did an effective job.

Local media ignored the filing of the lawsuit in 2015 while plaintiffs against UT received massive coverage. While MPC is not as exciting as sports, the issues are just as serious when it involves one’s professional career.

Mayors Burchett and Rogero should take time in the future in their MPC appointments to ask their choices how they feel about these issues and if they will explore/discuss them when raised. What steps is the new MPC leadership taking to avoid these issues in the future? Have commissioners been briefed? Have they even asked about it?

The funding from the insurance policy is part of the Tennessee Municipal League, and Knoxville is a dues-paying member.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst will speak at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, at the Baker Center as part of the Ashe Lecture Series on issues facing the U.S. in Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe as well as NATO. He is now director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia center. The talk is open to the public. This writer sponsors these talks for the public.

It is surprising that local Democrats picked a replacement for Joe Armstrong, Rick Staples, who has his own set of legal issues (civil, not criminal) dealing with child support.

A clean break from pending legal issues might have made better political sense. Staples is a cinch to win this time as the GOP failed to field a candidate in the district.

Staples is very pleasant. but is often vague on issues. His real challenge will come in the Democratic Primary in 2018 if he has a credible rival like former Mayor Daniel Brown. Former state Rep. Pete Drew is an independent candidate on Nov. 8.

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