The former director of planning and codes for the city is suing his former employer for $2.5 million for allegedly violating his due process, civil and liberty rights.

Lee Lawson, who served as the city’s planning and codes director from October 2015 until June 2020, claims the City of Tullahoma and City Administrator Jennifer Moody “unilaterally terminate[d] his employment” and violated his rights to due process and liberty interests after he refused to give special treatment to certain properties favored by Moody.

When he did not provide leniency to those certain properties, Lawson’s complaint states, he was reprimanded, with Moody alleging that he refused face-to-face meetings with members of the public despite that being required as part of his position. Lawson’s complaint states Lawson utilized his staff members to make initial contact with the public when they required assistance. He would then meet with individuals who required “further assistance,” according to the complaint.

Lawson’s complaint states he was only given two days’ notice before a pre-disposition hearing on his job performance, at which time the only evidence against him was Moody’s own testimony. Lawson was removed from his position June 5, 2020, according to the complaint.

Following his removal from duty, Lawson submitted a written letter to then-Mayor Lane Curlee requesting to appeal his termination before the full city board. Curlee denied the request, however, and Lawson “exhausted his internal remedies,” per the complaint.

Lawson’s complaint also alleges he requested a “name clearing hearing” from the city, “seeking to have comments made about him publicly erased, amended or retracted.” That request was denied by Moody Oct. 23, 2020, per the complaint.

Lawson claims Moody’s “deliberate efforts to undermine [Lawson’s] right to his Position as an appointed servant or agent,” as well as former Mayor Lane Curlee’s failure to “provide a hearing on his request before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen” constitute a violation of his constitutional rights to due process (both substantive and procedural). The complaint states no members of the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen were present at his pre-disposition hearing or involved in the decision to remove him as planning and codes director, making the hearing “inadequate.”

The complaint also states Curlee’s decision to deny his appeal was “illegal, arbitrary, capricious” and in violation of his due process and civil rights; additionally, Lawson alleges Moody deprived him of his due process rights by being the only individual “making charges against” him and making the ultimate decision.

Further, Lawson claims Moody and the city deprived him of his “liberty interests” to his name and reputation, which he claims was damaged as a result of the previous News article about his ousting.

At that time, The News published details from Lawson’s termination letter, which made statements about Lawson that “discredited [his] reputation for truthfulness.”

“The published statements regarding Plaintiff’s alleged untruthfulness and insubordination have caused damage to his reputation such that his ability to find commensurate work has been damaged,” the complaint states.

Lawson and his attorney seek $2.5 million in compensatory damages, as well as damages “for the future enjoyment of his Positions in which he had a property interest, specifically including, but not limited to, all consequential damages and lost earnings” in an amount to be proven at a 12-person jury trial and attorney’s fees and associated costs. Lawson is being represented by Daniel W. Ames of the Murfreesboro law firm Hudson, Reed & Christiansen, PLLC.

As of Monday, June 7, the city had not filed a response to the complaint.

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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