A former Recovery Court counselor has sued the Rutherford County government claiming Mayor Bill Ketron committed sexual discrimination when he hired County Commissioner Steve Ervin to serve as Probation and Recovery Services director and that Ervin fired her in retaliation.
Melissa Kilpatrick, 44, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Oct. 25 in Rutherford County Chancery Court. Her lawyer, Steven Waldron, declined comment other than to say no hearing dates have been set.
Ervin declined comment. Ketron did not respond to a request for comment. Nickolas Christiansen, Rutherford County attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.
Kilpatrick began serving at the Rutherford County Recovery Court as an intern in 2015, the lawsuit says. She worked as a case manager from Oct. 20, 2015 until 2018, then worked as a Recovery Court counselor until she was fired without warning on Oct. 18 of this year.
The job for Probation and Recovery Services director was open in spring of this year. Kilpatrick was one of three applicants interviewed -- Ervin and another woman were the others, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says Ketron selected Ervin despite his being “woefully unqualified for the position and both of the female applicants, including Plaintiff, who were interviewed, were vastly more qualified and better in every relevant way for the position than was Mr. Ervin.”
The lawsuit says Ervin previously worked as a civics and economics high school teacher and development director for a private church school. Before that, he worked as a police officer. On his application for the Probation and Recovery Services director, he wrote that the only experience he had was helping a relative receive help through drug programs.
Ervin’s Probation and Recovery Services director salary is about $72,000 a year plus benefits. Kilpatrick says her salary was $45,900 per year. She is now unemployed.
Kilpatrick says in the lawsuit Ervin retaliated against her because she is a woman and because she applied for the job he received. She says she and a co-worker spoke to Ervin about an alleged improper disclosure of confidential client information. She claims that Ervin began shouting.
The plaintiff also alleges that Ervin made sexist remarks such as the reason for installing an alarm system in the office was “due to their (sic) being ‘many women’ in the office.”
Kilpatrick says Ervin did not follow county discipline policy when he gave her a written warning for alleged insubordination. The issue centered around a scheduling conflict on Aug. 23 for training about the same time Kilpatrick had an appointment to meet with Rutherford County Human Resources Director Sonya Stephenson.
Kilpatrick says that Stephenson wanted to meet with her on Oct. 18. Stephenson told her she was fired, the lawsuit says. Her termination letter says she was fired for not being able to get along with people, and “at will,” the lawsuit says. Kilpatrick says the county skipped four steps in its own policy when firing her.
Kilpatrick is asking to replace Ervin as director with his same compensation; back pay; a finding she was fired over retaliation; $300,000 in compensatory damages for humiliation; attorney’s fees and legal expenses; a jury verdict for $750,000 in damages, plus attorney’s fees and other expenses.