Saturday, September 23, 2023
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Black Safety Officer Can Pursue Retaliation Claim

(CN) - A safety officer can proceed with his case against the Chattanooga Housing Authority for retaliatory discharge, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled.

Timmy Sykes, who is black, complained that the chief of the CHA's safety department, Jeff Hazelwood, and his fellow white officers were guilty of racial profiling, excessive force, and illegal searches and seizures.

Sykes brought his concerns to his supervisor, and he was presented with a Performance Improvement Plan by Hazelwood, although it is unclear which of these occurred first.

Sykes also complained that Hazelwood maintained a criminal trespass list of more than 1,000 people who were not allowed onto CHA property. Most of the people on the list were young black men.

Sykes said that after he complained, he began to get the cold shoulder from his fellow officers. He eventually asked to be transferred to a fraud investigation position.

The CHA suspended Sykes without telling him why, although when pressed, a CHA said Sykes was being investigated for allegedly making a sexually harassing comment to a female resident.

Sykes then received notice that he was fired, although the notice did not give a reason. Hazelwood also sought to decertify Sykes, which would mean that he could not work as a public safety officer anywhere in Tennessee.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the CHA, but Judge Susano reversed the decision.

"At a minimum, there is a factual dispute over whether (Sykes) had a reasonable basis to believe that the (criminal trespass list) policy, as applied, was racial profiling," Susano wrote. "This dispute over whether (Sykes) acted in good faith precludes summary judgment."

Sykes is able to proceed with this case, but his co-plaintiff, Curtis Greene, is not. The evidence shows that Greene may have been fired for violating the CHA's prohibition on the personal use of a work-issued cell phone.

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