La Vergne City Hall

La Vergne City Hall

April Lawrence, assistant city recorder of La Vergne, was on paid administrative leave for allegedly not cooperating with an investigation of her complaints about city officials and was fired in October while her federal lawsuit against the city claiming discrimination was pending.

In March, Lawrence filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division. The defendants are the City of La Vergne and Mayor Jason Cole. Lawrence claims, among other things, that Cole ordered her to be placed on administrative leave as of Jan. 10 and did not allow her to return to work in retaliation of her filing a grievance. She says that is a violation of her civil, constitutional and statutory rights.

Lawrence is seeking a jury trial, back pay and damages, and reinstatement, among other demands.

She was fired on Oct. 30 after an external report found a number of alleged violations (see related story).

Lawrence did not reply to a request for comment. Her attorney, Heather M. Collins, said in an email, “While we do not typically comment on ongoing litigation, I can confirm that we are still representing Ms. Lawrence and that the complaint she previously had pending in federal court was amended to include the allegations related to her unlawful and retaliatory termination. The Amended Complaint speaks for itself at this point. But, I can confirm Ms. Lawrence was very saddened and shocked by the City’s decision to terminate her, right before the holidays, after leaving her in limbo for over ten months while it created pretextual reasons to terminate her.”

The amended lawsuit says, “In direct retaliation for her complaints and complaints of others and due to her cooperation in the City’s ensuing investigation about the complaints, Ms. Lawrence was terminated. In doing so, Defendants violated Ms. Lawrence’s civil, constitutional and statutory rights, under state and federal law.”

The lawsuit claims retaliation for Lawrence’s exercising her First Amendment rights; sex discrimination and retaliation for reporting it; failure to pay female workers equally; violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act for failure to pay overtime; and violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion).

Anne Smith, La Vergne’s public relations specialist, said Cole would not be able to comment given that the lawsuit is still ongoing.

The lawsuit says that on Jan. 2, the same day Lawrence contacted City Attorney Evan Cope to check on her grievance and share concerns about women allegedly receiving unequal pay, she was contacted by email by Tom Lee, a male attorney the city hired to investigate her claim, “and she expressed concern about implicit bias on the investigator’s part.”

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