A Clinton woman has emerged as the first to publicly accuse Anderson County's Circuit Court clerk of repeated sexual harassment.

Gail Harness is suing William T. Jones in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. She's the first of some seven women to take legal action against him.

Knoxville attorney Richard Collins filed the document Tuesday. It's been assigned to U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier.

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Harness names Jones, a Republican seeking re-election in May, and Anderson County as defendants. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

More: Clerk accuses opponent as new complaints emerge

Jones, who could not be reached Tuesday, attributes accusations against him to political assassination. He's accused opponent Rex Lynch, a former Anderson County mayor, of encouraging the reports, something Lynch denies.

Legal allegations

According to Harness, Jones inappropriately touched her, made remarks about her body and sent her a vulgar SnapChat message. Then, after his wife Amy discovered they'd been SnapChatting, Jones accused her of tipping off his wife and said Harness would "pay for it," the lawsuit states.

10News has previously reported many of Harness' allegations but has not named her. Records obtained by WBIR show Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark looked into the case but found there wasn't adequate reason to pursue criminal charges.

Human Resources directors have interviewed Harness and her husband, who complained in 2016 to Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank. She also has submitted a complaint to the Oak Ridge office of the NAACP because she was fearful her case would be swept under the rug.

Harness has been on paid county leave since September, according to her lawsuit.

She started in Jones' office as an unpaid intern while finishing a college degree. Then she became a part-time clerical employee in early 2016, although she hoped to land a full-time position.

Harness alleges Jones' abuse began soon after she started.

William T. Jones
Source: William T. Jones election page, Facebook

He liked to call himself "Daddy" and referred to some women in his office as "Daddy's bitch" or "Daddy's prissy bitch," the lawsuit states.

She often worked alone in the juvenile court file room. She alleges Jones would corner her there, leer at her, make suggestive comments and compliment her on her breasts.

Jones liked to brag that no one controlled him in county government, the lawsuit states.

In 2016, Anderson County approved an anti-harassment policy but Jones declined to implement it.

In 2015, after another woman accused him of harassment, Jones at first agreed to take training arranged by human resources, according to records obtained by 10News. He then declined, saying he'd taken an online course offered by a government assistance agency, according to an affidavit submitted by Russell Bearden, the HR director at the time.

In February and March of 2017, Jones wrote Harness up for what she says were "trumped up" infractions. Neither ended up in her personnel file, she says.

In August 2017, as Jones prepared to move her from Clinton to Oak Ridge, which was considered the employee "graveyard," Harness went to Bearden and reported the alleged abuse.

Jones visited her in the Oak Ridge office, suggesting that her days working for the county were "numbered," she alleges.

The county put her on paid leave Sept. 14.

"(Harness) still does not know whether or if she will be able to return to her job, an uncertainty that has led to serious mental anguish and distress," the lawsuit states.

Jones acts

Jones last week filed an ethics complaint against Anderson County's 16-member commission as well as Bearden, interim HR director Kim Whitaker and Law Director Jay Yeager. Bearden left the county last fall.

Jones alleges they've all mishandled complaints against him and violated his rights.

He also has filed suit in Anderson County against an Oneida woman, alleging she defamed him. She was not an employee.

On Feb. 20, Anderson County Commission unanimously approved a resolution censuring Jones. They also called on him to resign.

Commissioners have no authority over him.

Jones says he's being attacked by a "good old boy" political system that he's trying to buck.

While Clark has decided against seeking charges against Jones in Harness' case, one of his assistant prosecutors has spoken out about Jones in another case.

Last week, Anderson County Assistant District Attorney General Ryan Spitzer called WYSH radio in Clinton to complain about Jones' abuse of his wife. He has not returned a request for comment.