New calls for probe over staffer firing in Jeremy Durham report

After the legislative session ended in 2013, Tennessee Director of Legislative Administration Connie Ridley sent a letter to a staff member telling her she would lose her job the same day.

Ridley cited "changes that are being made" in the office of the lawmaker where the staff member worked, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Tennessean.

"Your personnel file will be coded expiration of appointment, in good standing," states the letter.

The staff member, referred to as "Jane Doe 24" in a scathing report on Jeremy Durham's sexual misconduct from the Tennessee attorney general, told The Tennessean earlier this year she has "no doubt" she was let go from her job because of a relationship between the female representative the woman worked for and Durham.

State Democrats believe the female lawmaker, known as "Rep. Jane Doe 33" in the report, may have broken the law when she had the staff member fired.

“If the findings of the AG are true, an anonymous state representative or an anonymous manager of human resources may have possibly violated several Tennessee laws,” Sen. Lee Harris told The Tennessean on Tuesday, pointing to a state law that prohibits taking retaliatory action against a victim of sexual harassment. "You cannot fire somebody based on sexual harassment."

Ridley said Tuesday she could not confirm or deny if an investigation was underway, saying policy makes all information of any investigation confidential while it is ongoing.

Harris and Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who are Memphis Democrats, said they have been leading a review of the culture at the legislature after being encouraged by their constituents.

“Some of these citizens believe the environment (at the capitol) is one of mistreatment, unfairness and that tolerates law breaking,” Harris said.

Democrats have blasted Rep. Jane Doe #33 since the report was released in July, saying she fired the staff member as a form of retaliation. During the special session in September where Durham was expelled, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, called on Rep. Jane Doe #33 to identify herself on the floor.

She did not.

Earlier this year, when The Tennessean asked Rep. Jane Doe #33 about her relationship with Durham, she said they were "very good friends." She told the attorney general they were "best friends" and that they "laughed about" the allegations against Durham that were reported in The Tennessean.

The Tennessean is not identifying Rep. Jane Doe #33 in order to protect the identity of Jane Doe #24, who is a victim of sexual harassment. The attorney general report says Durham tried to kiss Jane Doe 24, tried to invite himself into her apartment and regularly sent her messages. Jane Doe 24 told the attorney general she wanted to be a lobbyist since high school but no longer wanted to after her interactions with Durham.

Durham has denied sexually harassing anyone.

The report states Rep. Jane Doe #33 found out Jane Doe #24 and Durham spoke regularly and were "hanging out."

"When the session ended, Human Resources immediately notified Jane Doe #24 that Rep. Jane Doe #33 wanted her reassigned...(Jane Doe #24) heard from legislative staff member John Doe #32 that Rep. Jane Doe #33 did not speak well of her to other members," the report states.

A legislative staff member confirmed to the Tennessean that Rep. Jane Doe #33 was negative about Jane Doe #24 after she was fired.

The staff member was prevented from getting another job due to Rep. Jane Doe #33 speaking ill of her to other colleagues, Harris said, citing his interpretation of the attorney general's report. That's clear evidence she was fired and retaliated against to due to sexual harassment, Harris said, which is against the law.

Although Ridley lists expiration of appointment as the official reason the staff member was let go, the state paid an additional month's worth of salary as a "separation package."

Specifically asked about whether Rep. Jane Doe #33 retaliated against her staff member, Ridley said in late July, "the General Assembly has consistently maintained a policy prohibiting retaliation. Complaints alleging retaliation would be reviewed by my office. Any determination of a violation would result in prompt corrective action being taken."

Asked again about any possible investigation or punishment pertaining to Rep. Jane Doe #33, Ridley said Tuesday that she couldn't reveal any information due to confidentiality clauses in both the old and new legislative workplace discrimination policy.

"Further, both the current and former policies state that no information concerning a complaint or investigation will be released to anyone not directly involved. As a result, the information you request, if it exists, would not be subject to disclosure," Ridley said in an email.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Beth Harwell declined to say whether the Nashville Republican would initiate an investigation into the firing of Jane Doe #24.

If there was an investigation underway, Harris believes it would have already been completed.

"We have to assume that we've either got a group that's inept and doesn't know that they need to go further....or we have to assume there's some kind of cover up going," Hardaway said. "I have no problem in saying that it's got to be one or the other."

This story originally appeared on The Tennessean’s website.


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