Former Smithville Police Chief Richard Jennings and his wife June have filed a federal court lawsuit against the City of Smithville claiming he was wrongfully terminated and that his constitutional rights were violated
The Smithville board of aldermen, with four voting in the affirmative, on December 7th upheld the city discipline board's decision in November to terminate Jennings for dereliction of duties/negligence. Aldermen W.J. (Dub) White, Steve White, Shawn Jacobs, and Aaron Meeks all voted for termination. Alderman Cecil Burger, saying he lacked enough information, did not vote.
In the lawsuit, filed December 10th, Jennings alleges that the city never established a cause for his termination, that the city violated his constitutional due process rights, and that he was the victim of age discrimination in the dismissal.
The former police chief is asking for a jury trial, that he be awarded back pay and damages for loss of earnings and benefits in an amount to be determined at trial, that front pay be awarded to compensate him for lost employment opportunities, that compensatory damages be awarded in an amount to be determined at trial, and that he be awarded attorney's fees, expenses of the litigation, prejudgement interests, punitive damages, and such other and further relief as may be deemed just and proper."
Jennings is being represented by Murfreesboro attorney Kerry Knox.
The lawsuit states that from 1986 until his termination, Jennings was employed by the City in the Smithville Police Department; that he served as Chief from 1994 until approximately 2004; that he again served as Chief from 2007 until his termination; and that he was purportedly supervised by the "police commissioner" a member of the City's Board of Aldermen.
According to the lawsuit, "Beginning July 1st, 2009, Alderman Aaron Meeks served as the police commissioner."
"Alderman Meeks has no experience, training, certifications, or commissions in law enforcement. In fact, no alderman to hold the title police commissioner has had experience, training, certifications, or commissions in law enforcement."
"Shortly after Alderman Meeks began as police commissioner, Chief Jennings asked Alderman Meeks to discuss any issues, concerns, or suggestions with him as they arose, rather than compiling a laundry list of complaints.'
"On September 14th, 2009, Chief Jennings learned that the Board of Aldermen was going to have a "workshop" to discuss issues with the City."
"Chief Jennings asked if he should attend, and he was advised that he should but was not advised that any particular topics were to be discussed."
"The workshop quickly devolved into an interrogation of Chief Jennings, and Alderman Meeks had prepared a list of questions and complaints that he directed to Plaintiff Richard Jennings."
"On November 2nd, 2009, Alderman Meeks contacted Chief Jennings, advising Chief Jennings that he was going to move to terminate Chief Jennings at the Board of Aldermen meeting, mere hours before the meeting. Alderman Meeks gave Chief Jennings the option of retiring."
"Chief Jennings asked for more time to consider the option of retirement."
"On November 5th, 2009, Chief Jennings refused the offer to retire."
"On November 12th, 2009, Chief Jennings was suspended without pay, pending the outcome of further administrative hearings. At that time, he was provided with an ambiguous memorandum containing eleven reasons for his termination, which, according to Alderman Meeks, constituted "Dereliction of Duties/ Negligence.".
"On November 17th, 2009, a hearing was held before a three man board, consisting of Alderman Meeks, City Mayor Taft Hendrixson, and City Secretary/Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson."
"The three man board voted 2-1 to terminate Chief Jennings, with Alderman Meeks and Mayor Hendrixon voting in favor of termination."
"The November 17th meeting lasted less than ten minutes, and there was no discussion among the board members of the reasoning behind its decision."
"Chief Jennings requested a hearing before the full Board of Aldermen, which was ultimately held on December 7th, 2009."
"At the hearing before the Board of Aldermen, Chief Jennings requested the recusal of Alderman Meeks on the basis that Alderman Meeks could not consider the termination with impartiality.'
"Chief Jennings' reasonable request was denied."
"Chief Jennings additionally requested that he be allowed to question Alderman Meeks on the reasons and factual basis supporting termination."
"Chief Jennings' reasonable request was denied."
"Chief Jennings responded to the extent possible to each of the listed allegations but was unable to respond meaningfully to several of the allegations, as he did not know the basis for the allegations."
"Certain allegations from the November 12th memorandum were directly refuted and supported by documentary evidence."
"In the memorandum, Alderman Meeks alleged that Chief Jennings was working with an increase in budget. A review of the 2007-08 budget against the 2008-09 budget refutes that proposition."
"In the memorandum, Alderman Meeks alleged that Chief Jennings was not a "working chief", performing basic patrol duties. A review of the city's job description for Chief of Police does not state that the Chief of Police is expected to perform basic patrol duties."
"In the memorandum, Alderman Meeks alleged that Chief Jennings still had overtime for his officers in his budget, apparently for the proposition that Chief Jennings should have been performing more drug investigations. A review of the city's policy on overtime demonstrated that Chief Jennings had very little discretion to allow overtime, and he certainly was not allowed overtime for any extensive investigative/ operational purpose."
"In the meantime, Alderman Meeks criticized Chief Jennings for allowing the transportation of a civilian "out of the area of authority of the Smithville Police Department." Chief Jennings explained that the transportation was for a "police purpose" as authorized in the Smithville Police Department's handbook."
"The city's charter dictates that its employees may only be discharged "for cause".
"Chief Jennings was not an "at will" employee."
"Chief Jennings was terminated in a 4-0 vote by the Board of Aldermen, with Alderman Cecil Burger determining that he did not have enough information to cast a vote."
"The voting Aldermen did not debate the termination or offer any explanation on the cause supporting Chief Jennings' termination."
"Chief Jennings was terminated from a job he loved, has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation, has suffered and will continue to suffer tremendous financial injury, and has suffered emotional distress as a direct and proximate result of the city's wrongdoing."
"As the spouse of Chief Jennings, June Jennings has suffered and will continue to suffer tremendous financial injury, and has suffered emotional distress as a direct and proximate result of the city's wrongdoing."
"As the direct and proximate result of her husband's termination, June Jennings has suffered a loss of much of the consortium, companionship, society, and services she would have otherwise received from her husband during the normal course of their marital relationship."
"The city's conduct was willful, intentional, malicious, and reckless."
"The city's reasons for termination were arbitrary and capricious."
Jennings alleges that he was the victim of a wrongful discharge in that his termination was unsupported by "cause" and that he was entitled to statutory and contractual protections in the event that he was subjected to the employer's disciplinary procedures. Jennings claims that the city deprived him of his procedural and substantive due process rights that are guaranteed to him by the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the State of Tennessee, and the rules and regulations of the City.
In the age discrimination complaint, the lawsuit alleges that "Chief Jennings is over 40 years of age, and is therefore a member of a group which is protected by the Tennessee Human Rights Act".
"Chief Jennings was the subject of an adverse job decision."
"The City's termination of Jennings came under circumstances that give rise to an inference of age discrimination."
"Chief Jennings' job functions are now performed by someone substantially (more than seven years) younger than Chief Jennings.'
"Chief Jennings has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation, financial injury, humiliation, and embarrassment, and emotional distress as a direct and proximate result of the City's wrongdoing."