Judge-executive, county attorney named in whistleblower suit

A former Franklin County deputy judge-executive has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Judge-Executive Huston Wells and County Attorney Rick Sparks alleging that her efforts to expose a hostile work environment led to her termination. Jennifer Wilson recently filed the civil suit in Anderson County, where she lives. It claims that she was retaliated against after […]

Attorneys in the whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former deputy judge-executive who claimed that she was fired for exposing a hostile work environment have agreed to leave some confidential information out of the public record.

It’s the most recent development in the lawsuit by Jennifer Wilson, former deputy judge-executive, against Franklin County. The suit contends that she was retaliated against after speaking out about complaints from employees of a hostile work environment stemming from an alleged inappropriate relationship between Wells and then-Franklin County Fiscal Court Clerk Tambra Harrod, who is now the deputy judge-executive.

In the most recent filing in the case, both sides agreed to a protective order sealing certain information. However, what the information consists of is unclear. It is in anticipation of discovery, which would become public record, according to Wilson's lawyer, Ayala Golding.

“It’s a general coverage,” Golding said. “I’m not sure what’s to come, but because this is employment litigation, we are asking that certain people or things be kept confidential.”

Golding said both sides agreed to the terms.

Franklin County’s attorney in the case, Barry Stilz, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The lawsuit, filed in Anderson County Circuit Court, stemmed from complaints Wilson said she received in 2018 from employees concerned about “what they perceived as an overly familiar and unprofessional” relationship between Harrod and Wells. The employees allegedly told Wilson they found this conduct offensive and feared it was creating a hostile work environment, the lawsuit states.

After she aired her concerns about the work environment, she was called into Wells’ office and was asked to resign, the lawsuit says. Wilson refused and was terminated.

Two months later, Harrod was appointed to the position of deputy judge-executive by Wells.

Wilson’s suit claims the totality of events amounted to retaliation for speaking out on employee concerns about a hostile work environment. In addition to compensatory damages to cover lost wages, emotional distress and attorney fees, Wilson has also asked for punitive damages to deter future whistleblower retaliation, according to the lawsuit.

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