Jennifer Hightower is suing the City of Jasper, Florida for monetary damages and legal and equitable relief.
STATEMENTS OF THE ULTIMATE FACTS:
Jennifer Hightower began her employment with the City of Jasper in or about March 2011 as a customer service clerk. In or about November 2002, she was appointed City Clerk, a position she held until she was unlawfully terminated on August 13, 2018.
As the City Clerk, her job duties included, but were not limited to, coordinating the agenda for monthly city council meetings. Often times, this duty involved Plaintiff discussing agenda topics with other city personnel.
On Wednesday, April 4, 2018 Mrs. Hightower met with Mr. Charles Williams, Manager for the City of Jasper, in his office to discuss the agenda for the monthly city council meeting on April 9, 2018.
Mr. Williams immediately set the tone for his meeting with Mrs. Hightower by closing the door behind her, something he had not done with the two had met previously. Mr. Williams proceeded to demand that Plaintiff add an item, a two-year employment contract extension for Mr. Williams, to the April 9th meeting agenda.
In making said demand, Mr. Williams threatened Mrs. Hightower by brandishing his firearm and stating “If I don’t get what I want Monday night, I will take you down,” among other threats.
That evening April 4, 2018 Mrs. Hightower filed a formal complaint against Mr. Williams with the Mayor’s Office and contacted the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) regarding Mr. Williams’ threatening behavior.
On Thursday, April 5, 2018, Mr. Williams learned that Mrs. Hightower had not included his requested item on the April 9th meeting agenda and he became irate. Specifically, Mr. Williams stormed into Mrs. Hightower’s office, threw a copy of the proposed agenda in her directin and began screaming at her. When she informed Mr. Williams that she had been instructed by multiple council members not to include Mr. Williams” item, he intimidated her by placing his hand on the holster of his gun and stating “I’ll get the (City) Council to deal with you”.
Several witnesses observed and/or heard Mr. Williams’ threatening outburst and comforted Mrs. Hightower, who was noticeably distraught and fearful, thereafter.
That evening, Mrs. Hightower filled an incident reort with HCSO documenting, and objecting to, Mr. Williams’ unlawful behavior over the past two days.
At the April 9th city council meeting, Mr. Williams unnecessarily distributed copies of the HCSO incident report filed by Mrs. Hightower to city council members.
At the same meeting, Mrs. Hightower stated that Mr. Williams’ actions had placed her in fear of her life. In acknowledging the hostility between Mr. Williams and Mrs. Hightower, Mr. Rhett Bullard, city attorney, proposed that Mr. Williams and Plaintiff work separate work schedules and suggested an independent investigation into hostile work environment ensue.
Immediately following the April 9th meeting, Mrs. Hightower was retaliated against by coworkers, including but not limited to a city council member, who yelled at her, cussed at her and threw objects at her.
On May 22, 2018, Mr. Williams voluntarily resigned from his position as city manager amidst an investigation by the State Attorney’s Office for the Third Circuit of Florida into his unlawful conduct concerning her. Following Mr. Williams’ resignation, Mrs. Hightower was further retaliated against by city council employees, including having a complaint filed against her with the EEOC that was determined to be completely unsubstantial by an independent investigator.
On August 13, 2018, a monthly council meeting was held, wherein Mrs. Hightowr was unlawfully terminated without cause in retaliation for reporting and objecting to, Mr. Williams’ unlawful behavior. Specifically, at the meeting, council member Gerald Lewis made a motion to terminate Mrs. Hightower’s employment. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lewis was heard whispering to council member Mr. Stewart Mitchell, “I need you to second that,” regarding said motion. Mr Lewis’ motion passed and Mrs. Hightower was immediately terminated from her employment in retaliation of the events described herein.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE WHISTLE-BLOWER RETALIATION
This count sets forth a claim against Defendant Jasper under §112.3187, et. seq. Fla Stats.
Mrs. Hightower was a public employee protected under the provisions of Chapter 112, Fla.Stats.
As stated more specifically in part above, Mrs. Hightower reported and disclosed violations of rules, regulations and laws, and/or malfeasance, misfeasance and/or gross misconduct to persons both inside and outside her normal chain of command and who had the authority to investigate, police, manage and otherwise remedy the violations of rules, regulations and laws that she reported. She also disclosed this information when she participated in investigations or other agency inquiries. Mrs. Hightower reported malfeasance, gross misconduct and other acts specifically outlined in § 112.318, et. seq. Fla Stats.
After reporting these matters and/or participating in investigations or other agency inquiries, Mrs. Hightower wwas the victim of retaliatory actions.
Mrs. Hightower’s termination and/or other retaliatory actions were a direct adverse result of her reporting violations of rules, regulations or laws, and or her reporting malfeasance, misfeasance or gross misconduct, and/or her participating in investigations or other inquiries.
The actions of all employees within the City of Jasper’s control who affected Mrs. Hightower’s employment adversely did so at least in part in retaliation against her for her “whistleblowing” activities.
As a direct and proximate resut of the actions taken against her by the City of Jasper, Mrs. Hightower has suffered injury, including but not limited to past and future wage losses, loss of benefits and other tangible and intangible damages. These damages have occurred in the past and are occurring at present and will occur in the future:
PRAYER FOR RELIEF:
Mrs. Hightower prays for the following relief:
That process issue and this Court take jurisdiction over this case
Enter judgment against the Defendant City of Jasper and for the Plaintiff Mrs. Hightowr awarding damages against the City of Jasper
Prejudgment interest on monetory recovery obtained pursuant to law
Award attorneys’ fees, interest and costs; and
Such further relief as is equitable and just
DEMAND FOR TRIAL BY JURY:
PLAINTIFF HEREBY DEMANDS A TRIAL BY JURY ON ALL ISSUES SET FORTH