Knox County filed a counter lawsuit Tuesday against a longtime employee whose workplace harassment allegations led to the resignation of the county’s purchasing director.
The Knox County Chancery Court lawsuit alleges Janice Orr was out for “personal gain” when she made “false and deceptive statements” in 2016 about her then boss, former purchasing director Hugh Holt.
Knox County Deputy Law Director David S. Wigler filed the counterclaim.
In the suit, Wigler argues the county “has a legitimate interest in terminating employees of the Finance Department who make false or deceptive statements for personal gain.” According to the county, that's what Orr has done.
Wigler also filed a separate motion Tuesday requesting the transfer of Orr's complaint to Knox County Circuit Court for dismissal.
In January, Orr sued in Chancery Court, alleging she was subjected to repeated harassment that included jokes and insults about her sexuality. She named Holt as the manager who knew about and let the harassment occur. She alleges he took part in some of the abuse.
Holt, through an attorney, has denied the allegations.
Holt was recommended for termination in October after an internal county review.
He quit, however, and promptly took a job overseeing purchasing for the Knox County Sheriff's Office at a higher salary.
Orr seeks compensatory damages of $800,000 against Holt and $1.5 million against the county. She also seeks punitive damages of $2 million against Holt and $5 million against the county.
After an unrelated lawsuit was resolved last year involving a former Metropolitan Planning Commission manager, Knox County alleges, Orr saw an opportunity to make money. She made false allegations against Holt to the human resources director, the county's counter lawsuit states.
Knox County employees did nothing wrong in the way they treated Orr, according to the county. Orr's own texts show she sent "friendly, personal messages" to Holt and his wife, the county's lawsuit states.
Because she made false allegations against the county, Holt and others, Knox County is entitled to fire Orr, the county's lawsuit states.