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Former Jellico Electric employee files suit

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By Jennifer Caldwell

A jilted employee is hoping to give Jellico Electric and Water Systems (JEWS) a jolt with the recent filing of a million dollar lawsuit.

Last Tuesday attorney David Dunaway filed a complaint on behalf of his client Chris V. Salyers, a former employee of JEWS, in Campbell County’s circuit court.

In the complaint JEWS along with James M. Bethureum, general manager, and Stuart Proffit, supervisor of linemen and electrical crews, are alleged to have caused “a breach of contract and a breach of an employment relationship” when they terminated Salyer’s employment. His “failure and refusal to participate in or refusal to otherwise remain silent about illegal and unsafe activities,” was named as a reason behind Salyers termination. 

Salyers, who began his employment as a lineman with JEWS in 2004, alleges he was wrongfully terminated on March 17. Information in the complaint suggests Salyers’ firing was directly related to information he had regarding a 2006 incident where Jonathan Smith was seriously injured as a result of electrocution.

According to the complaint, Smith had been working on the roof of a garage at a Newcomb residence when he came into contact with an electrical line owned and allegedly negligently maintained by JEWS. The complaint goes on to say Salyers had informed JEWS officials on other occasions the power lines running over the garage were out of compliance with the National Electrical Safety Code and the Occupational Safety Health Act.

Prior to the August 2006 incident Salyers said he had notified JEWS the distribution lines over the garage were out of height compliance and the utility pole which held the distribution wires was showing “massive signs of decay,” the complaint said.

In addition Salyers alleges he had spoken out for the safety of fellow linemen and himself to officials complaining the utility did not have a designated electrical safety manager as required by the safety code.

On March 9 Salyers said he was informed by Bethureum that discovery depositions had been scheduled in a case involving the injury of Smith. During the conversation Salyers alleges Bethureum said he hoped the Smith case did not go to trial because in essence JEWS was liable, the complaint said.

The complaint alleges that as a result of Salyers repeated complaints of safety infractions JEWS, Bethureum and Proffit viewed him as a threat should he be discovered as a witness in the Smith case.

In reaction to this Salyers alleges Proffit took part in a “plan, scheme and device to otherwise ostensibly provide JEWS with a justification for terminating the plaintiff (Salyers),” according to the complaint.

The alleged scheme occurred on March 16 when Saylers was called in to work a power outage. 

 While at the JEWS warehouse Saylers said he was confronted by Proffit, who “unexpectedly began yelling and cursing” at Saylers. The complaint goes on to say Proffit made several attempts to provoke Saylers by “jumping into his face” and making “physical contact with him (Saylers) with his (Proffit’s) chest.

It was when Proffit made a move to indicate he planned to strike Saylers that Saylers hit Proffit in self defense, the complaint alleges.

The suit continues by stating the actions of Proffit and Bethureum “maliciously and intentionally interfered” with Saylers’ employment relationship and also “collectively sought to otherwise cause serious economic consequences” to Saylers because he had spoken out against safety violations committed by JEWS, Bethureum and Proffit.

The suit requests an award of compensatory damages not to exceed $500,000 and punitive damages not to exceed $1.5 million.