Charles L. Williams and Barbara Williams PLAINTIFFS
City of Jasper Florida; Darnell Lumpkin, in his official and individual capacities
Jennifer HIghtower, in her individual capacity; Yvetta Hightower, in her individual capacity, and Margie Geddes, in her individual capacity DEFENDANTS
Charles L. Williams and his wife Barbara Williams Plaintiffs sue the aforementioned defendants under § 112.3187 and Chapter 760 Florida Statutes and the common laws of Florida for action involving claims which are, individually, in excess of $15,000, exclusive of costs and interests. Plaintiff has satisfied all conditions precedent to bringing this action, if any, including filing a notice of Intent to sue the City of Jasper pursuant to chapter 760 Florida Statutes.
STATEMENT OF ULTIMATE FACTS:
Williams began his employment with the City of Jasper on May 10, 2011, as the City Manager and he held this position through the time of his wrongful termination which occurred on May 21, 2018. He was subjected to disparate treatment, different terms and conditions of employment and was retaliated against, after he engaged in statutority protected activity by reporting misfeasance, malfeasance and/or gross misconduct, specifically the actions or lack thereof, of Hightower. Williams was targeted by Hightower after he reported her conduct which constituted misfeasance, malfeasance and/or gross misconduct through her actions and inactions as the City Clerk for the City of Jasper.
On April 4, 2018 during a regularly scheduled monthly meeting between the City Clerk, Hightower and the City Manager, Williams, which is held prior to each monthly Council Meeting to prepare the written agenda, Williams instructed Hightower to place on the April 9th agenda the issue of Hightower’s neglect of duty and gros mismanagement pertaining to important matters such as hard copy document filing and management and proper record storage duties because files were not properly stored or ofganized, resulting in their being damaged, destroyed or impossible to locate.
On the following day, April 5, at 5:15 P.M. Williams reviewed the meeting agenda prepared by Hightower and saw that the City Clerk duties issue was not on the agenda. Williams went to Hightower’s office to ask why the matter had not been placed on the agenda. Upon entering the office Williams saw Geddes a citizen who had befriended Hightower, in Hightower’s office. Hightower told Williams she had “been authorized” to remove the matter from the written agenda. Upon information and belief, this “authorization” came from Mayor Lumpkin with whom Hightower has been in close, friendly and frequent contact during her tenure with the city, Williams said he would be placing the Clerk duties item on the agenda orally at the April 9th meeting. Williams then left City Hall withoiut any further discussion with Hightower.
Hightower falsely accused Williams of threatening her with a firearm. Williams has a concealed weapons permit and City Council Members, Hightower and other employees at City hall had been aware for at least six months that Williams carried a small firearm on his person, because there was no security at City Hall. This is because the City collects utility bill payments made in cash and the City doesn’t accept credit or debit card payments so large amonts of cash were stored within City Hall during the time period each month.
Hightower first leveled the absolutely false allegation that Williams threatened her with a firearm on April 5, 2018, when upon information from an eyewitness, she and Geddes contacted the Jasper City Police Department (JCPD) to falsely report Williams had threatened Hightower with a firearm while seated, lifting his hip on which he carried the concealed weapon, as if to expose the weapon to her and placing his hand on the gun case and threatening Hightower that he “would get the city council to deal with” Hightower if she did not place the item on the agenda. Hightower insisted that the JCPD arrest Williams.
After the JCPD refused to take any action, Hightower and Geddes then approached the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) later that same day to demand that Williams be arrested. Upon pressure from Hightower and Geddes, the HCSO drafted a report for “information only” with the offense descripted as “Harassment”. Hightower had provided a verbal and written statement to Officer Lee Harden in which Hightower claimed under oath that during the April 4th meeting, Williams, after questioning Hightower as to why Geddes spent so much time in Hightower’s office, “then stated that he was adding a request for a two-year employment contract to the agenda” for the upcoming City Council meeting and that Williams “continued to say that if he didn’t get what he wanted he would take down Hightower” The report continues on to state that Williams shifted his body, whereupon Hightower saw that Williams had a gun on his side. The flap on the case was open. Hightower asked what does that mean? Williams replied, you will see. Hightowr was very upset after becoming aware Plaintiff had a gun. The HCSO report then continues on to state that after Hightower left William’s office, she was visibly upset and her face was “noticeably red” Several co-workers asked if she was oakay. Hightower replied no, Williams just threatened me.
Williams admitted Hightower was visibly upset but it was not because Williams had threatened her with his firearm. Instead it was because Hightower took umbrage with Williams Instructions to place her position on the upcoming Council agenda to initiate discussion of the manner in which Hightower was not properly performing her duties as well as to clearly delineate which duties were attendant to the clerk position in regard to document management.
The HCSO report states on April 5th at 5:15 p.m. “in the witness of Margie Geddes, Williams was verbally aggressive and yelling at Hightower with his hand on his gun and stated he would get the council to deal with Hightowr. Hightower states that several others heard his town down the hall in the back offices”. The report concludes “Hightower states that Williams has created a hostile work environment and it is a threat by displaying his gun as a threat to possible consequences. She is afraid of Williams; that he has created a work place of fear. That she is afraid to report to work and perform her job without endangering herself” The HCSO reported states that Hightowr had reported this to Mayor Lumpkin and was advised to get a report done. Thus, this report states that Lumpkin directed Hightower to report her false allegation regarding Williams Threatening her to law enforcement.
On Friday, April 6, 2018, the Chief of Police of the JCPD called Williams to inform him that Hightower had contacted him the day before and she had stated that Williams had threatened her with the firearm. The Chief stated he was calling because he didn’t want Williams blindsighted by the allegations at the upcoming City Council Meeting and also told Williams he was aware that the HCSO had takken a report from Hightower.
On Monday Aril 9th, 2018, Williams secured the report from HCSO made by Hightower to provide the complaint to the members of the City Council, but when Williams handed the HCSO complaint to City Council Chairman Jay Daigle, Daigle informed him Hightower had already provided copies of the HCSO report to council members. No one had contacted Williams earlier to inform him that Hightower had provided anyone with the HCSO report, or for that matter that they were aware of the allegations.
The HCSO report was broadcast to the community at the City of Jasper City Council public meeting, that Williams treatened Hightower with the firearm allegations and to select an entity to hire to investigate the incident.
On or around May 1, 2018, Williams met with State Attorney Jeff Seigmeister about the HCSO report. Williams learned that Hightower, her mother-in-law, Yvetta Hightower and Geddes had already been to Seigmeister’s office to speak to him and provided him with a copy of the HCSO report. Seigmeister also told Williams that Hightower, Yvetta Hightower and Geddes had tried to convince Seigmeister to arrest Williams and Seigmeister told Williams that if he resigned, the report would remain in his drawer and no further action would be taken.
As a result of these and other actions by the City of Jasper, Mayor Lumpkin, Hightower, Yvetta Hightower and Geddes, Williams was constructively terminated from his employment with the City of Jasper after he submitted his written resignation on May 21, 2018. The City did nothing to rectify the behavior of Hightower, notwithstanding the fact that Williams denied that he committed any wrongdoing before the City Council, that Williams obviously does not possess such a temperament that would result in him threatening Hightower with a firearm, as she claimed he did and importantly, that Hightower had a history of raising false and contrived allegations against prior City Managers.
Specifically, the City of Jasper knew or should have known, that Hightower had previously made false allegations against prior City Managers. According to the managers and eyewitnesses, in one instance after Hightower was displeased with the City Manager’s attempts to have her conform to normal workday hours because Hightower was not showing up for work and was taking extended lunches, among other actions constituting neglect of her duty and violations of the City’s policies and rules, Hightower made false allegations against this City Manager as to his interactions with her which caused the City Council to terminate him. As to another City Manager, Hightower, made untruthful assertions that this person, in his 70s and married, was sexually harassing her, which resulted in his firing or resignation. These are just some examples of prior targeting of City Managers by Hightower as well as Hightower’s obvious lies told to the City Council, which should have been investigated in these instances, but failed to do so. Consequently, the City of Jasper knew or should have known Hightower should have been terminated from her position as City Clerk, long before her false accusations against Williams, because her continuation in this position caused serious harm to Williams and other employees and created a hostile work environment. As a consequence Plaintiff Barbara Williams has suffered the care, companionship, society, consortium and services of her husband, Williams.
COUNT 1 – PUBLIC EMPLOYEE WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION AGAINST THE CITY OF JASPER
Williams was a public employee protected under Chapter 112 Florida Statutes and he attempted to report and disclose violations of state rules, regulations and laws to a person who had the authority to investigate, police, manage and otherwise remedy the violations of rules, regulations and laws reported by Williams.
After providing the information as well as reporting these matters, Williams was the victim of retaliatory actions by the City of Jasper and specifically, Lumpkin, who knew that Williams had attempted to report malfeasance, misfeasance and other acts specifically outlined in section 112.3187(5), yet directed Hightower to remove the report from the City Council agenda. Williams reports were conveyed in writing (but destroyed as a result of Hightower and Lumpkin removing the report from its written form) and/or were made to supervisors and other persons within the City of Jasper who could remedy the violations. After Williams reported these matters, adverse actions were taken against him and he was constructively discharged.
The City of Jasper is prohibited from dismissing, disciplining or otherwise taking any other adverse personnel action against an employee for disclosing information pursuant to the provisions of section 112.3187 (4).
Under section 112.3187(3)(c) Florida Statutes “adverse personnel action” is defined as “the discharge, suspension, transfer or demotion of any employee or the withholding of bonuses, the reduction in salary or benefits, or any other adverse action taken against an employee within the terms and conditionss of employment by an agency or independent contractor”.
The actions of all officials and employees within the City of Jasper who adversely affected William’s employment, did so in retaliation against him for his whistleblowing activities. As a direct and proximate result of the actions taken against him by the City, Williams has suffered injury, including but not limited to past and future wage losses, loss of benefits and other economic damages. These damages are continuing and are reasonably expected to continue into the future.
COUNT II – AGAINST HIGHTOWER, YVETTA HIGHTOWER, GEDDES AND LUMPKIN
Hightower, Yvetta Hightower, Geddies and Lumpkin published, caused to be published or allowed to be published, false statements that Williams threatened Hightower with a firearm to third parties and created a hostile work environment as set forth in part above.
These statements were malicious and intended to harm Williams. The statements were intended to harm William’s reputation in the community to cause his termination, and to deter others from associating with him and are actionable on their face. As a result of the publication at the direction of Lumpkin, Williams has suffered damages which include, without limitation special and geneeral damages.
Hightower, Yvetta Hightower, and Geddies engaged in slander per se which is actionable on its face and general damages are presumed. They engaged in slander per quod and Williams is entitled to damages as a consequence thereof. All communications made by Hightower, Yvetta Hightower, and Geddies regarding Williams, at Lumpkin’s direction were made to two law enforcement entities JCPD and HCSO, the City Council, the State Attorney, and members of the community , and were published on numerous occasions in the local newpaper (which included a photograph of Williams) and a nearby television news station. These statements attiribute conduct and characteristics to Williams which in effect brand him as violently threatening with a firearm and dangerous, traits which are incopatible with his true self and his functioning as a member of his community and occupation. Few good, decent or honorable people want to have business or personal relationships with a person bearing the qualities attributed to Williams by Hightower, Yvetta Hightower, and Geddies, whether serving them in a personal or professional capacity. As a result of the defamatory statements, Williams has suffered extreme humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of consortium, loss capacity for enjoyment of life, loss of business and profits, loss of reputation, good standing in the community, and other tangible and intangible damages. These damages have occurred in the past and present and are reasonably expected to continue into the future. Williams is entitled to an award of punitive damages under this count.
COUNT III – CIVIL CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT DEFAMATION AND ATTEMPT TO ELICIT A FALSE ARREST HIGHTOWER, YVETTA HIGHTOWER AND GEDDES.
Hightower, Yvetta Hightower, and Geddies 1) AGREED AMONGST THEMSELVES 2) TO COMMIT AN UNLAWFUL ACT, OR TO DO A LAWFUL ACT BY UNLAWFUL MEANS i.e. they engaged in the defaming of Williams by making a false report about Williams threatening Hightower with a firearm to two law enforcement entities (JCPD and HCSO) and repeating the information to the City Council, the State Attorney, members of the Community and the print and television news media, which published on numerous occasion the false statement that Williams had threatened Hightower with a firearm. These statements attribute conduct and characteristics to Williams, which in effect brand him as violently threatening with a firearm and dangerous traits which are incompatible with his true self and his functioning as a member of his community and occupation. Hightower, Yvetta Hightower, and Geddies engaged in overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy by traveling to the physical locations of the JCPD and HCSO and the State’s attorney’s office making the false statement that Williams had threatened Hightower with a firearm and encouraging these entitiies to arrest Williams and by further disseminating the false statement at the City Council meetings, which were broadcast live to the community as well as making the false statement to the media and members of the community.
Williams has suffered damages as a result of this conspiracy to commit defamation and elicit a false arrest, has suffered extreme humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish, pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of consortium, lost capacity for enjoyment of life, loss of business and profits, loss of reputation, good standing in the community and other tangible and intangible damages.These damages have occurred in the past and present and are reasonably expected to continue into the future. Williams is entitled to an award of punitive damages under this count.
COUNT IV – NEGLIGENT SUPERVISION AND RETENTION AGAINST CITY OF JASPER
At all times material, Hightower was under the direction, supervision and control of the City of Jasper, either directly or through its agents. The City of Jasper either directly or through its agents negligently retained and/or supervised Hightower. The City knew or should have known that the failure to appropriately evaluate, assess and intervene in the improper actions and misconduct Hightower engaged against Williams, would result in damages to Williams, particularly because Hightower had engaged in similar behaviors in the past with prioer City Managers. The City failed to exercise reasonable care in retaining and/or supervisiong Hightower.
As a direct and proximate cause of the acts, Williams has incurred pain and suffering , physical inconvenience, and discomfort, loss of time, mental anguish and resultant physical symptoms and injuries, expenses incurred due to the medical treatment because of these injuries, , loss of, reputational and professional discrediting, embarrassment, humiliation and extensive financial decreases and deprivation.
COUNT V – LOSS OF CONSORTIUM
Ms. Williams was the wife/spouse of Williams As a sole, direct and proximate result of the illegal and improper actions and misconduct that all defendants directed at Williams, Ms. Williams lost the care, comfort, society, consortium, companionship and services of her husband. Ms Williams demands judgment against the Defendants in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional requirements of this Court, plus interests and costs and further demands such other and further relief as the Court may deem just, proper and equitable and demands a trial by jury of all issues triable as a right by jury.