A black former Tennessee State University police officer has filed suit against the school and its African-American police chief for retaliation he claims began after defending a white co-worker who had sued on grounds of reverse discrimination.
The complaint, filed last week in Davidson County Circuit Court, hinges on the school’s alleged violation of Title VII, a federal law that protects workers against discrimination, as well as the Tennessee Human Rights Act, a comparable state provision.
Former officer Kenneth D. Hardy is seeking $500,000 in compensation for alleged pain and suffering, humiliation, embarrassment, back pay, interest on back pay, lost benefits, injury to character and personal injury that stemmed from a litany of allegations spelled out in the suit.
“It’s a retaliation claim, probably more so than any other type of claim,” said attorney Ann Buntin Steiner, who is providing legal counsel for Hardy.
The defendant’s legal representative, expected to come from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, could not be reached for comment.
Hired by TSU in November 2006, Hardy was ultimately wrongly discharged of his position Sept. 27, 2009, the suit contends, for exercising his fundamental rights to serve as a witness in a discrimination case against TSU Police Chief Sheila Russell, and for filing a separate sex discrimination complaint against her.
Origins of Russell’s alleged unfair treatment of Hardy began in 2007 after a white male corporal officer filed a grievance against the African-American police chief for discrimination. Three black officers, including Hardy, testified that Russell singled out this white supervisor because of race.
“Both before Chief Russell became Chief of Police and after she became Chief of Police Plaintiff began to observe that Chief Russell treated the white officers very harshly in front of their peers and subordinates,” the suits reads. “Chief Russell would apply severe discipline to the white officers while non-white officers were not subjected to the same treatment.”
Hardy’s testimony seemed to set off two years of back and forth between Hardy and his third-shift supervisors during which time he lobbed allegations at higher-ups and his supervisors reprimanded him for seemingly minor offenses.
In one incident, Hardy was disciplined for bringing his daughter to the workplace, the suit reads, even though a female employee routinely brought her daughter to work. No action had been taken against the woman.
Disciplinary action over bringing his daughter to work compelled Hardy to file a sex discrimination complaint internally with the university before filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Soon after, the suit says Hardy was reassigned to TSU’s downtown campus and given new hours that conflicted with his separate job, which his employer already knew about. Supervisors wrote him up for his tardiness.
“All of these actions created a hostile work environment for the Plaintiff,” the suit says, and by September he was constructively discharged.
This latest case is one of a string of discrimination cases over the years involving the historically black university.
A long-standing civil rights case was filed by plaintiff Rita Sands Geier against the state of Tennessee and the U.S. government in 1968, and wasn’t dismissed until 2006. The case, which targeted alleged segregation in Tennessee’s higher education system, expanded to include a TSU faculty member and others in the 1970s.
In February, a Clarksville resident and Guam native filed a race discrimination suit claiming the school discriminates against non-black students in distributing grant funding. A year earlier, in October 2008, a Hindu professor filed suit against the school alleging religion and national origin discrimination.
Yet another suit, filed earlier this decade, claims the school harassed and discriminated against a Tanzanian faculty member based on race, sex and national origin.