Kate Farmer, who served a brief stint as Chattanooga's city treasurer before having her employment rescinded last summer, is suing the city for an alleged breach of contract.
Farmer was hired in the spring of 2020 after serving as clerk and treasurer for the town of Guernsey, Wyoming.
Within weeks of being hired in Chattanooga, Farmer was named in federal lawsuits filed by former police officers in Wyoming, accused of hacking a police chief's emails, sharing classified information about an investigation into city employees and firing the officers out of retaliation.
When Chattanooga found out about the lawsuits, which were filed after the city's background check of Farmer, her employment was rescinded by the city council just days after she started.
Now, Farmer, who has returned to living in and working for the city of Guernsey, alleges in a January lawsuit that the city denied her due process to appeal her firing, breaching her employment contract.
The complaint filed by Farmer details the move that the 38-year-old mother of two made with her sons and husband from Wyoming to Chattanooga, and back. In the complaint, she says the family lost no less than $21,000 in moving and attorney costs due to the city's promise and then rescission of the position, which would have paid $80,000.
In return, Farmer's complaint demands "all back-pay and benefits and any other damages allowable under law."
A spokesperson for the city of Chattanooga declined to comment on Thursday due to a policy against addressing pending litigation, but provided a letter from the city attorney to Janie Varnell, a local attorney representing Farmer, dated July 6, 2020.
Read the letter from the City of Chattanooga to VarnellView
In the letter, City Attorney Phil Noblett appears to respond to a notice of appeal filed on behalf of Farmer three days earlier, advising that she has missed the window for appealing the council's decision.
"As you have stated in your letter, action was taken by the Chattanooga City Council rescinding the appointment of Ms. Farmer as the city treasurer on May 12, 2020. Pursuant to the Chattanooga Employee Information Guide (EIG) at p. 185, which is attached, an employee appealing from a dismissal, demotion or suspension shall file a notice of appeal for a hearing with the city council clerk within 15 days following the action taken against the employee," Noblett wrote. "The notice of appeal dated June 26, 2020, is well beyond the 15-day period which is listed in the EIG. As such, it appears that Ms. Farmer's notice of appeal is time barred at this time for any hearing request before an administrative law judge."
Noblett also cites page 35 of the same employee guide, saying "all civilian employees will enter into a six-month probationary period during which time the city of Chattanooga reserves the right to dismiss any employee without prior warning for not meeting the organization's employment standards. That section further states that new hire probationary employees shall not be entitled to any due process hearings with respect to discharge."
In her complaint, Farmer says that she tried to appeal the decision to the mayor early on but was denied.
"Two days after the city council 'rescinded' Mrs. Farmer's appointment as city treasurer in violation of city charter, Mrs. Farmer sent an email to Mayor Berke which is a notice of appeal inquiring about her right to appeal and requesting an appeal of this decision," the complaint says. "Mayor Berke responded that, after consultation with the city attorney, there was no appeal and no way to change the decision of the city council."
She says the denial of this appeal violated her rights under the city charter which states employees not otherwise specified in the charter "shall be subject to dismissal, suspension or demotion by the authority which appointed them, but any such officer, agent, or employee so dismissed, suspended or demoted shall have the right of appeal of any disciplinary action to the extent provided by ordinance."
"This is inaccurate as Mrs. Farmer possessed the same right to appeal her effective termination just like any other city employee as guaranteed by the city charter," the complaint argues. "Further, as a charter appointed employee of the city, she possessed due process rights in her employment."
Varnell told the Times Free Press Thursday she is limited in commenting on the lawsuit against the city, but "Mrs. Farmer looks forward to telling her story in court and hopes that justice will prevail."
Since her termination, Farmer has returned to her job with the city of Guernsey, according to minutes from recent public meetings, which show her listed as staff as far back as July.
The initial lawsuit filed against Farmer and other Guernsey officials is scheduled for trial in June, according to a Wyoming District Court clerk.
Phone and email attempts to reach Farmer on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.