By RACHAEL LONG
The Town of Nolensville called claims made in a discrimination lawsuit by a former Nolensville police officer “meritless” in a statement released in a Thursday Facebook post.
Cindy Strange filed the suit this past August against the town and two of its former employees for alleged wage discrimination based on her gender as well as sex discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
The Town of Nolensville, on its Facebook page, said the response this week was prompted by media inquiries.
The statement reads: “The Town has been contacted by the media regarding the lawsuit filed by Cindy Strange against the Town Of Nolensville. Ms. Strange is a former police officer with the Town of Nolensville who voluntarily resigned her employment with the Town. While employed, Ms. Strange made allegations against the Town of discrimination and harassment and an independent investigation conducted by an outside law firm found these allegations to be unfounded. Following her resignation, Ms. Strange filed a claim with the EEOC and they declined to take action. Ms. Strange sued the Town and the Town has employed outside counsel to vigorously defend the meritless allegations made by Ms. Strange. No further comment will be made by the Town while the lawsuit is pending.”
Cindy Strange was an officer with the Town of Nolensville Police Department until Dec. 11, 2017, when Strange was “constructively discharged,” as stated by attorney Cynthia Wilson in the August 2018 filing.
Defendants named in the lawsuit include former Public Works Director and part-time Nolensville police officer Bryan Howell, former Nolensville Town Administrator and current Thompson’s Station Town Administrator Kenneth McLawhon, and the Town of Nolensville.
In its answer to Strange’s claims, the Town of Nolensville denies Strange was “constructively discharged.’
According to the lawsuit, Strange was hired as Nolensville Police Department’s first full-time police officer in 2012. After a few months, she was promoted to detective. In May of 2014, Strange was promoted again to Captain, making her the second in administrative and supervisory charge to then Police Chief Troy Huffines.
In her 61-point filing, Strange claims she was ordered by McLawhon to investigate the conduct of Huffines, despite her objections, following the filing of internal employee grievances.
Among her findings, the lawsuit states, was a recommendation that Nolensville Police officers receive harassment and hostile work environment training, referred to as the “Training Recommendation.” This is the moment the lawsuit points to as the “origins” of the “harassing, discriminatory [and] retaliatory” actions to “force the Plaintiff’s resignation.”
The lawsuit claims a Nolensville management group Wilson collectively refers to in the suit as the “Nolensville Insiders” included Howell, McLawhon, Mayor Jimmy Alexander and Vice Mayor Jason Patrick. Strange claims this group collectively and individually had decision-making power and authority over Nolensville operations and employees, including the Nolensville Police Department and the Plaintiff.
In its answer, the Town of Nolensville denies that the “Nolensville Insiders” existed or had decision-making power and authority.
In the filing, Wilson writes, “From and after the Plaintiff’s presentation of her Training Recommendation, the Nolensville Insiders began to disparage and denigrate the Plaintiff among themselves and to others in and out of Nolensville government, and to question whether females in general, or the Plaintiff in particular, were appropriate or effective police officers.”
The lawsuit claims Strange was harassed and discriminated against after Howell and McLawhon allegedly lied about Strange’s actions during a 2016 policing incident involving an assailant threatening another Nolensville police officer. Strange claims the defendants “spread and encouraged the lie that the Plaintiff had not exited her vehicle” and instead sat in her vehicle “refusing to assist in managing the ‘Knife Incident’ crime scene.”
Strange claims the Knife Incident caused the police officers she supervised to lose confidence in her ability to lead.
In his answers to the plaintiff’s claims, Howell admits he saw Strange in her vehicle but denies the rest of her allegations. Both McLawhon and the Town of Nolensville admit that some of the police officers Strange supervised “made comments that they lost confidence in Plaintiff’s ability to lead and viewed her as a coward.”
The suit claims another law enforcement individual reported to Patrick “the increasing hostility and discriminatory actions being directed at and endured by the Plaintiff.” Strange claims Patrick promised an investigation but no investigation or additional inquiry was taken.
The Town of Nolensville denies these claims, stating in its answer that Strange “failed to file a grievance or otherwise avail herself of the Town policies for reporting harassment.”
The lawsuit describes several encounters, which can be read below, where Strange claims she was sexually harassed. One allegation details alleged “sexually demeaning statements and comments to other coworkers” by Howell.
Strange claims Howell told coworkers under her supervision that she was “only good for sex” and mocked her appearance. In his answer, Howell denies these claims.
The lawsuit claims that during the investigation of a discrimination claim filed by the Plaintiff, at least one Nolensville non-police employee, also a female, “felt compelled to resign from Nolensville, citing the presence of the sexually hostile work environment permeating the Nolensville city offices as the reason.”
In its answer, the Town of Nolensville denied this claim.
Strange claims she did not receive equal pay to her male counterparts for the same level of experience and education, that she was made to wait longer to gather her paycheck than her male colleagues, that she was not provided appropriate uniforms as were her male colleagues, that she was forced to work with Howell both before and after she filed a discrimination claim and that her application for Huffines’ vacant position as police chief were “never even acknowledged.”
The full lawsuit can be read below.
A trial date has not officially been set, as the original date of Dec. 11, 2019 was amended on April 12, 2019. A new trial date will be determined by the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee sometime after Aug. 3, 2019.
“Due to the voluminous nature of discovery and witnesses,” the trial that was once proposed for four to five days is now expected to take five to seven days.
Home Page will follow the story as it develops.