Gail Harness of Clinton, a former deputy clerk in the Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk’s office, has filed a federal lawsuit against William T. Jones, alleging her rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment — “to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex in public employment” — have been violated.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville by Knoxville attorney Richard Collins, the suit also names Anderson County government for do nothing in the wake of complaints against Jones for his alleged inappropriate behavior.
The suit claims Jones “subjected Plaintiff (Harness) and other women working under him to unwanted sexual advances, unwanted touching, intimidation, threats of retaliation, retaliation, and epithets offensive to women.”
Harness also says Jones inappropriately touched her, made remarks about her body and sent her a vulgar SnapChat message.
At one point Jones’ wife, Amy, found out about the SnapChatting and Jones accused Harness of telling his wife and said Harness would “pay for it,” the lawsuit states.
The suit also claims Jones liked to call himself “Daddy” and referred to some women in his office as “Daddy’s b*tch” or “Daddy’s prissy b*tch.”
The suit alleges the county knew about Jones’ alleged behavior as far back as 2014, but did nothing to stop it.
Harness says in February and March of 2017, Jones wrote her up for what she says were “trumped up” infractions that did not end up in her personnel file. Neither ended up in her personnel file, she says.
In August, 2017, Jones was planning to move Harness to the Oak Ridge office, called a “clerks’ graveyard” in redacted complaints filed with the Anderson County Human Resources office. Harness says she went to County HR Director Russell Bearden and reported Jones’ alleged behavior.
Bearden has since left county government for the private sector.
The suit claims Jones visited Harness in the Oak Ridge office after she was moved and suggested to her days working for the county were “numbered.”
Harness says started in the clerks’ office as an unpaid intern while finishing a college degree and then became a part-time clerical employee in early 2016.
She said she hoped to land a full-time position.
In September, 2017, the county placed Harness on paid leave.
“(Harness) still does not know whether or if she will be able to return to her job, an uncertainty that has led to serious mental anguish and distress,” the lawsuit states.
The suit is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.