Court papers were recently filed and served in the case of Dennis Byers, Leslie Brent King, Clarence T. Birdwell, and Greg Smartt (Plaintiffs) versus Hubert “Turkey” Hargis “individually in his capacity as Grundy County Road Superintendent,” The Grundy County Highway Department, and Grundy County (Defendants).
Hargis allegedly fired Byers, King, and Birdwell and constructively terminated Smartt because the four men did not support him in the Democratic Primary held in May. Smartt was terminated in February and the other three Defendants were fired the day after the primary.
As to jurisdiction, the papers state “this case arises under the United States Constitution, particularly the provisions of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution, and under Federal law, particularly the Civil Rights Act, Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983.”
In addition, the plaintiffs are residents of Grundy County as is defendant Hargis. The Grundy County Highway Department is a department of the Grundy County Government. The defendant Grundy County is a governmental entity organized and existing under the laws of the State of Tennessee.
“In doing the acts alleged in this Complaint, the Defendant, Hargis, was acting under the color of the statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs, and usages of the Defendant, Grundy County and the State of Tennessee and under his respective office as Grundy County Road superintendent.”
The papers filed state facts central to the Plaintiff’s claims:
Section 11: “Plaintiff Denis Byers had worked for the Grundy County Road Superintendent for eleven years as a truck driver for the Grundy County Highway Department prior to his termination. During his employment, Byers has been a safe and efficient driver for the Grundy County Highway Department. Dennis Byers was a good employee. His position was neither a policy making nor confidential position and political affiliation was not an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of his job.”
Section 12: “Plaintiff Leslie Brent King had worked for nine years for the Grundy County Superintendent prior to his termination. During his employment, King has been a safe and efficient driver for the Grundy County Highway Department. Brent King was a good employee. His position was neither a policy making nor confidential position and political affiliation was not an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of his job.”
Section 13: “Plaintiff Clarence T. Birdwell had worked for the Grundy County Road Superintendent for four years as a truck driver for the Grundy County Highway Department prior to his termination. During his employment, Birdwell has been a safe and efficient driver for the Grundy County Highway Department. Clarence Birdwell was a good employee. His position was neither a policy making nor confidential position and political affiliation was not an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of his job.”
Section 14: “Plaintiff Greg Smartt worked for the Grundy County Superintendent for twenty-one years as a mechanic for the Grundy County Highway Department prior to being constructively discharged from his position with the Grundy County Highway Department.”
“In 2014, the position of Superintendent for Roads of Grundy County was open for election. The incumbent, Hargis, sought to retain the office. He had opposition in the Democratic primary that was held on May 6. He barely won the election, with thirty percent of the vote against two opponents. The actions of the Road Superintendent, Hargis, against Plaintiff Greg Smartt, occurred during this election in February of 2014. The actions against Plaintiffs Byers, King, and Birdwell occurred the day after the primary election.
Section 16: “Plaintiff Gregg Smartt was constructively criticized by the Defendant, Hargis, as follows: The Defendant, Hargis, angrily approached the Plaintiff, Smartt, in February 2014 and accused the Plaintiff of campaigning for Michael Meeks. The Plaintiff denied this but the defendant, Hargis, persisted in accusing the candidate of voting for another candidate. The Plaintiff, Smartt, stated to the Defendant that he was not campaigning for any candidate but in response to the Defendant’s insistence that the Plaintiff who he was voting for, the Plaintiff honestly told the Defendant who he was voting for, candidate Johnny Ray Fults. The Defendant, Hargis, began questioning the Plaintiff’s sick days. The Defendant became even angrier and left but came back and began making false allegations against the Plaintiff, Smartt. Smartt realized he could not work under these conditions and turned in his notice to leave his employment of twenty-one years. The Plaintiff, Smartt, states the termination of his employment amounts to constructive discharge by the Defendants.”
Section 17: “Plaintiffs Byers, King, and Birdwell were called aside by Superintendent Hargis on May 7, the morning after the primary election, and told words to the effect that he was ‘letting them go’, i.e. terminating their employment from the Grundy County Highway Department, telling Plaintiff King ‘ya’ll tried to take my job, now I’m taking yours,’ and telling Plaintiffs Byers and Birdwell they were fired for not supporting him in the election.”
Section 18: “Later, after being asked by the Plaintiffs for a termination slip, Hargis issued separation notices falsely claiming the Plaintiffs’ discharges were for poor performance, killing time, and parking on the side of the road.”
The following Causes of Action were noted:
Section 19: “The conduct of the Defendants, as described above, violated the Plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendments, Rights of Free Speech and free association. Plaintiffs were discharged solely because their employer, Defendant Hargis, believed they did not support his election, the 2014 Grundy County Democratic Primary.”
Section 20: “Patronage dismissals of governmental employees, who do not hold policy making of confidential positions, have been recognized as unconstitutional since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Elrod vs. Burns.”
Section 21: “Defendant Grundy County delegated its decision making authority for hiring and firing employees at the Grundy County Highway Department to the Defendant, Hargis. The Defendant Grundy County is liable in this cause for action taken by Superintendent Hargis against these Plaintiffs as described in this complaint.”
Section 22: “By terminating or constructively discharging Plaintiffs for failing to support the incumbent Road Superintendent (Hargis) in the election, Grundy County and Hubert Hargis, acting through the Grundy County Highway Department and Defendant Hargis clearly violated the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”
Section 23: “Premises considered, Plaintiffs’ pay for the following relief from this court. (a) For actual and compensatory damages including emotional distress and humiliation in the amount not to exceed $4,000,000. (b) For punitive damages as allowed by Federal and State Law in the amount of $4,000,000. (c) For all of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs in this matter. (d) For a jury to try this cause. (e) For such other general and further relief as this court may deem just and proper.”