published Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Cleveland, police deny discrimination allegations

  • photo
    Sgt. Suzanne Jackson is pictured in this 2007 file photo.

The city of Cleveland, Tenn., and its top police brass are denying the sex discrimination alleged in a federal lawsuit brought by a detective who was fired in September.

Through attorneys, the city and the defendant police officers state that Suzanne Jackson's lawsuit charging discrimination, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress has no merit and should be dismissed.

"My clients adamantly deny the allegations that are raised in the complaint," said attorney Benjamin Lauderback with the Knoxville firm Watson, Roach, Batson, Rowell and Lauderback, which is representing Police Chief Wes Snyder and four other officers -- Lt. Robert Harbison; Capt. David Bishop; Detective Lt. Mark Gibson and Lt. Dennis Maddux.

"They are veteran, career police officers with outstanding reputations," Lauderback said. "Anyone who wants to can file a lawsuit at any time and allege anything they want. That doesn't mean the allegations are true. We look forward to our day in court."

The response by the city and the officers was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.

Jackson, a 19-year Cleveland Police Department veteran, was fired after she allegedly mishandled evidence in a criminal case. In January, she filed suit against the city and the officers.

Jackson's lawsuit claimed that male officers who had committed similar mistakes were not fired. It claimed she was discriminated against by male colleagues and superiors from the time she was promoted to detective in early 2008, and that the termination was actually retaliation for her filing two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints earlier in the year.

Jackson is seeking damages for discrimination, retaliation, negligence, emotional distress, violations of the U.S. Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act and more, plus back pay, restoration of benefits, punitive damages and attorney fees.

The 18-page response denied Jackson's claims that she was treated differently from male detectives, denied access to schools and training and harassed at work. It denied that the city or the defendant officers discriminated, retaliated or created a hostile work environment.

It states that any employment-related actions involving Jackson were "based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory grounds," and that the defendants are entitled to immunity under Tennessee law.

A separate answer filed by Ronald D. Wells of Robinson, Smith and Wells in Chattanooga on behalf of the city of Cleveland, states that any actions related to Jackson's employment at the police department, including firing, "were a result of the plaintiff's own actions and inactions." It "denies that any actions or inactions on its part have in any way violated" Jackson's rights under federal or state law, or that the city discriminated against, harassed or retaliated against her.

Jackson's attorney, Stuart James of Chattanooga, said he is studying the responses and is pleased the defendants responded comprehensively rather than with a simple motion to dismiss the case.

"We're looking forward to discovery," he said, referring to the process of assembling evidence in the case.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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