Ex-HHSP golf chief denies favoritism

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The fired golf course manager at Henry Horton State Park denies an allegation of working while inebriated, and counters the prospect of a sex harassment complaint.

"There's a lot of stuff in there that I don't think they'll be able to prove," says Kerry Blanton, one of three park employees dismissed by Jim Fyke, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"This is more or less a witch hunt," Blanton said of his dismissal five weeks ago when Fyke detailed results of audits and an investigation concluding golfers were playing free and merchandise was given away.

"It is possible that violations of the Workplace Harassment Policy are also forthcoming," Fyke wrote to Blanton.

Sex harassment is not necessarily sexual. Frequently, it's an unconstitutional practice based on federal protections against discrimination against groups of people that are based on race, religion, sex, handicap and other attributes.

"Witnesses reported that women are scheduled during the busiest days with little or no assistance," Fyke wrote. "Before this investigation, they were required to do all the cleaning chores such as cleaning the carpets and [they feel] they are treated differently because they are female."

"That's just untrue," Blanton told the Marshall County Tribune.

"Violations of age discrimination may also be among the violations since witnesses have observed that the young female employee is given preferential treatment over those who are over age 40, or older," Fyke wrote.

Blanton told investigators he played golf about once a week, but they saw him play during three of their four visits, Fyke said.

"At least one witness stated they have observed you intoxicated on the golf course," the dismissal letter states.

Responding to that, Blanton told this newspaper, "It was my day off and I was playing golf. I was not intoxicated. I will drink a beer when playing golf."

Blanton was a 25-year career state employee five years away from retirement, he said.

TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart has said Blanton and the other two dismissed golf course employees have filed grievances to regain their jobs, but hearings have not yet been scheduled.