A laid-off maintenance technician has filed a disability discrimination complaint against the Chattanooga Housing Authority.
“It’s like they have a group of people that hangs together, and if you’re not a part of that then you’re subject to get gone at a time like this,” said Edward Wickley, who filed the complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.
He said housing authority officials “have the authority to pick and choose who they want to let go.”
Mr. Wickley, 53, was among 26 people the housing authority laid off in March. CHA officials said the layoffs were necessary because of inadequate funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
They are anticipating a $1.9 million reduction in operating funds for the next fiscal year, housing authority officials have said.
Housing officials had warned employees who did not sign a nondisclosure clause when they were laid off that they could jeopardize their severance packages by speaking publicly about the layoffs.
The investigation into Mr. Wickley’s complaint is expected to take three to six months, said Beverly Watts, executive director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.
Mr. Wickley, a housing authority maintenance technician for three years, said he cares more about correcting what he considers an injustice than his severance package.
“Because this is an at-will state, they can do whatever they want to do,” Mr. Wickley said. “I want them to know they can’t do anybody any way.”
Tennessee’s employment-at-will doctrine states an employee can quit his job at any time for any reason without consequence and that an employer may terminate an employee whenever for whatever reason without consequence, according to the Employment Tennessee Law Center Web site.
Mr. Wickley said he has been contacting state representatives and asking them to consider changing the at-will law.
State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said there are a number of areas that restrict employers’ right to fire people.
Housing authority board Chairman Eddie Holmes said that, though Tennessee is an at-will state, employers “still cannot discriminate” against people.
“You still cannot discriminate based on race, religion, national origin or disability,” he said. “That person is still protected through the (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).”
Under the law, an employer also may not fire or discipline an employee for being called into the military, voting, filing worker’s compensation claims, being subjected to wage garnishment, being called for jury duty or on the basis of the employee’s friends and associates, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workplace Development.
Mr. Wickley said CHA officials targeted him because he was disabled. He had a heart attack, was off work for four months and was restricted to light duty for a month after he returned, he said. Two weeks after returning to regular duty, he was laid off, he said.
Housing officials told him he was released at the recommendation of his supervisor, which was not the case, Mr. Wickley said.
Bill Lord, the housing authority’s chief public information officer, said it is against authority policy to discuss personnel matters. But housing officials have said an employee’s seniority and the need for the employee’s service were considered when deciding on the layoffs.
TENNESSEE EMPLOYMENT LAW
Tennessee’s employment-at-will doctrine says an employee can quit his job at any time for any reason without consequence and that an employer may terminate an employee whenever for whatever reason without consequence. However, an employer may not discriminate based on race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin or disability. Nor can an employer fire or discipline an employee for being called into the military, voting, filing worker’s compensation claims, being subjected to wage garnishment, being called for jury duty or on the basis of the employee’s associates.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...