A former Caryville Town Recorder is seeking compensation of up to $1.5 million after she was terminated from her position on April 22.
The suit, filed on May 6, alleges an illegal purchase made by Mayor Chris Stanley, as well as an illegal payment of expired vacation hours, discrimination against the former police chief, and retaliation against the recorder for her warning about the discrimination.
In the 8-page document filed by Cheryl Ivey’s attorney, Dave Dunaway, Ivey maintains she was the town purchasing agent per a 1983 state municipal purchasing law ratified by the town in 1985. The Certified Municipal Finance Officer Act of 2007 also gave Ivey authority to manage the town’s financial operations. Those details were seemingly reiterated in the town’s purchasing policy enacted on Feb. 11 as it required purchases under $500 to receive three signatures from the mayor and board, and required purchases of more than $500 to be approved by a majority vote.
The mayor breached the policy as early as that same month, the lawsuit claims.
According to the lawsuit, Stanley reportedly brought Ivey a receipt from Walmart for $49.69 and asked to be reimbursed on Feb. 3. The money was reportedly spent on a cell phone card - a purchase which violates the law and the policy of using Verizon as the town’s cell phone provider. Ivey reimbursed Stanley and then reported the incident to the state comptroller’s office.
The comptroller’s office said they were unable to comment on the matter.
Three days after Stanley issued her the Walmart receipt, Ivey says she took a phone call from him asking her to pay Officer James Wilson $584 for unused vacation. The request was in defiance to a 2008 ordinance that said vacation days not used by Dec. 31 are forfeited. Stanley allegedly told Ivey “Just do it.”
Ivey paid Wilson and reported the incident to the comptroller’s office again.
The following month, former Police Chief Johnny Jones was demoted to patrolman. His pay was reduced and he was placed on night shift.
A “younger, less qualified and less experienced,” individual was promoted to police chief according to the suit. Assistant Chief Stephanie Smith moved into the role of police chief upon Jones’s demotion.
Demoting Jones and promoting Smith was a discriminatory act according to the suit and a violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act, a violation the suit says Ivey tried to warn Stanley about.
Additionally, the suit goes on to say that it is a “discriminatory practice” to retaliate in any manner against a person because “such person has opposed a practice declared discriminatory by the Tennessee Human Rights Act.”
On April 19, Jones was on patrol when he was in a car accident and flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. Ivey went to the hospital to see him “as city recorder and [a] fellow employee.” As recorder and finance officer, Ivey was responsible for gathering the necessary information for a worker’s compensation claim, the suit said.
Ivey was fired from her position the next working day, April 22. The suit said Ivey was “shocked and surprised” at the news.
Firing Ivey “served no legitimate purpose…except to cause a delay in reporting and administration of workers’ compensation benefits on behalf of the former police chief and fellow employee, Johnny Jones,” according to the suit. Ivey goes on to allege that she was fired for her refusal to participate in or remain silent about the mayor’s reportedly illegal activities.
Among the damages Ivey claims is a loss of earnings, loss of future earnings, employment benefits as well as personal injuries – humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress.
The suit asks for her reinstatement with the same benefits, credits, and position as before, but if it is not possible, she seeks $750,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages.
Stanley said there’s no truth to the accusations levied at him.
“We deny all allegations,” he said. “You can talk to [town attorney] Reid [Troutman] about that.”
Lawsuits represent only one side of claims.
Troutman will not handle the case, it will instead be sent to the town’s insurance provider, TML.
“They will designate an attorney. I won’t be representing the city on it,” Troutman said.
Ivey’s absence was not acknowledged by any of the town’s officials at Monday night’s board meeting. Town court reporter Pat Donahue kept the minutes.
During the citizens’ input section of the meeting, Ivey’s former father-in-law, Edgar Ivey, addressed the board to voice his displeasure with decisions regarding Jones’s and Ivey’s demotion and termination.
“The main thing I wanted to say to you guys right up front is I have no respect whatsoever for you,” he said. “Just from the way that you’ve done this committee the last four weeks in taking guys’ raises away to demoting the chief of police now to the firing of Cheryl and it said in the paper the reason for demoting the chief was lack of management skills. And I want to say there is a lack of management skills over here, but it’s not in the police department. It’s sitting right here in front of us.”
The crowd offered shouts of “amen” and applause at the statement.
He commended Alderwoman Vickie Heatherly for “standing up” to do “what’s right” and encouraged her to keep her seat, but that she wouldn’t be blamed if she ever left the “den of snakes.”
“They say this with the greatest respect and I want you to take it at that, but they say you’re the only man over here on this committee,” he told her.
The crowd again applauded.
Stanley listened with pursed lips and clasped hands.
After the meeting, Stanley had no rebuttal to Edgar Ivey’s comments.
“That’s his opinion and every citizen of the town has their opinion,” he said. Stanley went on to call Edgar Ivey a “good man.”
It was unclear when the town plans to hire another recorder.