Lewisburg faces Wallace charge

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lewisburg's immediate past industrial development director has complained to state and federal officials that age discrimination was a factor when he was discharged last summer.

"I was never disciplined for performance or behavioral issues during my tenure" with the city, Terry Wallace's complaint states to the federal office in Nashville. "I believe I have been discriminated against based on my age."

Wallace will be 64 on Monday. His successor, Greg Lowe, was 41 when he was hired.

On a Charge of Discrimination form from the Tennessee

Human Rights Commission, Wallace indicates he wants the charge also filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mayor Barbara Woods said on Tuesday that she did "not remember why he was let go. I didn't think it was" age discrimination.

"I'm sure it's not his age," Woods said, "but I can see how it might be seen that way. You always look for what might hold up" when complaining.

"Anybody can sue and file an EEOC complaint," she said. "It doesn't mean you'll win."

Woods is a retired educator who's taught class and worked as a principal. An age discrimination complaint was filed against her when she made a hiring decision.

"She alleged that she was overlooked because she was about 45 years old," Woods recalled, noting the woman who was hired was about 25. The complaint failed.

Wallace's employment with the city began in mid-March 2007. Before that he was the Marshall County mayor. Joe Boyd Liggett overcame Wallace's bid for re-election in August 2006.

"On July 2, 2010," Wallace's complaint form states, "I was discharged from my position by City Manager Gordon (Eddie) Fuller, although I was the only one who performed my duties."

Early last year, Fuller made it known publicly that he wanted to retire. He did at the end of October. The city manager in Lewisburg is the official charged with hiring and firing authority for all but three top officials: manager, recorder and attorney.

"The city will vigorously defend its compliance with EEOC standards and it cannot comment further," City Attorney Steve Broadway said in a prepared statement.

Broadway succeeded Bill Haywood who's now the county's attorney. City councilmen offered to retain Haywood at about half of what he was being paid.

Wallace was being paid $66,000 annually as the city's industrial recruiter. He was provided a Ford Crown Victoria for his transportation.

He is currently unemployed, but he's had a temporary contract job with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"I was clearing about $500 a week" at that job, Wallace said of his pay as a national emergency grant business service manager in Marshall, Maury, Giles, Hickman, Wayne, Lawrence, Moore and Perry counties to address flooding issues.

During City Hall discussions about Wallace and his dismissal, Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. and others said "Lewisburg is an 'at-will employer,'" a reference to labor law. It says people work at the will of the employer and can be fired for no specified reason. However, the term comes from the flip side of unionization. In some states, union contracts influence employment decisions by businesses. A business with a unionized work force has what's called a "closed shop," meaning an employee must be a member of the union and openings are subject to the availability of union members' availability. Tennessee law calls for "open shop" rules and businesses are "at-will employers."

Therefore, last summer, the city manager was careful as he described the situation with regards to Wallace's departure. "There's a separation notice you do to the Department of Labor with a place to note the reason," Fuller explained in July. "You don't have to give a reason." Terminated without cause is what many attorneys advise as the appropriate statement to use when releasing an employee.