BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
A former employee of the Greene County Clerk's Office has lodged a formal complaint alleging that County Clerk David Thompson sexually coerced her, discriminated against her, and retaliated against her on the basis of her gender.
Those allegations were contained in a formal "Charge of Discrimination" filed with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission by Michelle Diane Burke.
Burke, 39, was employed as a Greene County deputy clerk from Feb. 15, 2005 to Aug. 24, 2012. Thompson has been county clerk since September 2006.
Burke filed the complaint against the Greene County government. Although Thompson is named in the complaint, he is not a formal defendant.
The county government received the complaint from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Tennessee Human Rights Commission on July 15.
Burke charges in her complaint that, "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).
"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."
The Greeneville Sun was advised by a third party that the EEOC/Human Rights Commission complaint was on file in County Attorney Roger Woolsey's office.
After receiving that information, the Sun requested and received a copy from Woolsey's office on Wednesday afternoon.
"While I look forward to the truth coming out in court, based on the advice of my attorneys I am not able to comment any further at this time on these allegations," Thompson said Wednesday in a brief telephone interview.
Thompson, who is married, is currently serving his second term as clerk. He was first elected to the countywide position in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010.
A former county commissioner, he was elected to the County Commission in 1998. He was re-elected to the commission, a four-year term of office, in 2002.
He is also a former dispatcher with the Greene County Sheriff's Department and a former chief of the Camp Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
Thompson's personal attorney is Jerry Laughlin, of Laughlin, Nunnally, Hood & Crum, P.C.
30 DAYS TO REPLY
The county has 30 days to reply to the complaint.
"I'd had an earlier conversation with Mrs. Burke's attorney, Sandra Stanbery-Foster," Woolsey explained on Wednesday.
"In that conversation she discussed some of the allegations that her client was making as relates to her employment with the County Court Clerk's office.
"I did not have the opportunity to see the actual allegations until about 10 days ago. Looking at those allegations, of course some of the allegations are quite serious.
"I know Mr. Thompson has denied that he harassed anyone, including Mrs. Burke.
"We are investigating.
"Part of our responsibility is that we ensure that all county employees have a safe work environment, free from harassment or discrimination.
"Part of our obligation is to investigate, talk to employees and make sure there are not ongoing issues presently.
"We will continue to investigate and interview employees and former employees because we have to file a response to this EEOC complaint by Aug. 15.
"At this point I'm not in a position to say that the allegations are with merit or without merit. That will hopefully be clarified within the next two weeks," he concluded.
Woolsey also clarified that the complaint is against Greene County, with Burke making "allegations against Mr. Thompson and other employees with the department."
It is the county that must answer to the EEOC, however -- not Thompson, Woolsey said.
According to the EEOC website, "The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law.
"Our role in an investigation is to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding. If we find that discrimination has occurred, we will try to settle the charge.
"If we aren't successful, we have the authority to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public.
"We do not, however, file lawsuits in all cases where we find discrimination."
Within the text of the complaint, Burke gives a first-person account of her years of employment with the county, including the alleged incidents of harassment.
"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," Burke said in her written statement.
She alleges that her health deteriorated over that time, but that Thompson leveraged her job to force her to do as he asked.
She said that she was a single mother and had to take time off due to "post-divorce issues." Thompson reassured her that this was fine and that they could "work something out," she said.
"I did not know what that meant, then," Burke wrote.
She alleges in the complaint that the harassment began as a request to see personal photos on Burke's cell phone, and escalated from that point.
"He wanted my phone and wanted me to send him 'naughty' pictures of me. Later, David Thompson created a fake email account ... and began to send me emails, so he wouldn't get caught at work," Burke said in the complaint.
She stated that this escalated into kissing and fondling inside Thompson's office at the Courthouse Annex.
She further alleged that Thompson installed cameras that he monitored from inside his office during these acts to avoid being caught.
After the cameras were installed, she said Thompson's demands worsened.
"He wanted and demanded oral sex. Before the oral sex, he again made it abundantly clear -- either do what I say or you won't have a job," she wrote in the complaint.
Burke said she complained about how she was treated by other employees, and Thompson replied that he would take care of her.
"So to keep my job, I had to go along with everything he said. I just didn't realize how far and how long it was going to last," she states in the complaint.
"It got worse. When David Thompson quizzed me and discovered I had a webcam and went home for lunch, he began buzzing me even before I reached my home. He expected me to sexually perform for him on webcam.
"Often, I wouldn't even go home because I did not want to follow his commands.
"David Thompson's control over me, and my involvement with him, made me feel disgusted with myself. But, I was a single mom, needed the job and insurance for my children and me."
'NO EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK'
Burke said in the complaint that she did not know where to turn for help because Greene County "does not have an employee handbook."
However, Woolsey confirmed that Greene County does have an employee handbook that states to whom an employee may turn when feeling harassed or subject to discrimination.
The handbook specifies that, if the employee does not feel able to turn to his or her supervisor, the employee may turn to Woolsey as county attorney.
All employees are supposed to receive a copy of the handbook when they are hired, and copies are on file in the offices of the county attorney and the county mayor, Woolsey said.
"I knew Tennessee was a right-to-work state, so I just shut down, pretended to like it, and obeyed David Thompson's commands to keep my job," Burke continued in her statement.
The former employee also alleged that emailed demands for pictures and emails continued when she was not at work, including during her 2012 medical leave.
"I believe David Thompson had other female employees in our department under his control, and that he had them performing sexual acts or allowing him to do the things he did, simply because we were women and he could and would fire us or make the circumstances at work so untenable and emotionally debilitating, each would resign or quit," Burke said.
"By March of 2011, one of the employees in the department was rumored to have broken off her sexual relationship with David Thompson. I observed two other employees ... in the office make that employee's life miserable.
"These two employees were so mean to her, she had to quit. I was so afraid.
"I saw no way out."
Burke said that she began to receive that type of harassment from the two other employees while at the same time allegedly observing Thompson alter time cards for certain female employees and "run his fingers through the hair of specific employees, knowing that other employees were watching, including on one occasion, a Greene County commissioner."
She said that she refused to visit him at his home and that the sexual requests continued after she was "constructively and wrongfully discharged."
CIVIL RIGHTS ACT CITED
"I was forced to seek mental health counseling because of the emotional turmoil I was subjected to from all of the stress David Thompson and his posse ... put me through," Burke said in the complaint.
"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. It was clear to me, if I didn't go along with him, I would be terminated."
Burke alleged that her second FMLA leave was denied and her position terminated when she "finally resisted" his requests after she remarried.
"His two henchpersons ... exposed me to both terror and horror at the workplace," she added.
The complaint concludes with the following statement: "Therefore, for the above reasons, I believe I was discriminated and retaliated against because of my sex (female), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended."