Turner resigns from LES; racial discrimination suit filed

Friday, November 21, 2014

By Karen Hall


The general manager of Lewisburg Electric System resigned Wednesday for health reasons, but a suit was filed against him, and the city, this week alleging racial discrimination.

Richard Turner, 82, has been in charge of LES for 36 years, only the second general manager in the history of the utility.

The suit was brought by Jerome K. Beasley, 47, who has been an employee of LES since 1996. Beasley is African-American, one of just two who have been employed there in the last 18 years.

It alleges that Beasley was paid less than white workers for doing the same job, and when he wanted to apply for the job as warehouse manager Turner not only refused to consider him, but transferred him from the job he had been doing with specialized equipment and reduced his pay, without explanation.

"Mr. Beasley's disparate pay and the absence of other African-American employees at LES is no accident. Rather, it is the product of a decades-long pattern, practice, and policy of overt, intentional racial discrimination in hiring, transfer and promotion decisions by the City of Lewisburg and ... Defendant Turner," writes Beasley's attorney, R. Andrew Free of Nashville.

A man who can speak to this alleged discrimination is Earnest Francis of Lewisburg.

"I've been knowing him (Turner) a long time," said Francis in a phone interview. "I came to Lewisburg 14 or 15 years ago and I've been applying (to LES) ever since. He led me on for years and years. Every time I'd see Turner, I'd talk to him. He lied, he gave me false hope."

Francis said he was well qualified for many jobs at LES since he had a lot of experience building substations and putting up power lines in Texas.

He knows Beasley and his situation.

"Jerome ran all the trucks that dig the holes for the power poles," Francis said. "That's a good job. He never got the raise he deserved. He took him off the truck, that old man did!

"Jerome's not the type to sue somebody unless you really kick him around," he continued. "He's the only black who worked up there. I've been black all my life -- I know what it's like."

The suit alleges Turner would find out the race of applicants, and refuse to interview any who were non-white, and when he used outside staffing agencies he would state he did not want African-American or Latino candidates. It states that Turner consistently handpicked white staff, employees and supervisors, depriving qualified non-white candidates of the opportunity to be considered for work at LES.

In Point 13 of the suit filing, Free writes, "Turner explained to LES office staff his reasons for refusing to interview non-white job applicants as follows: 'I got a n---- in the front (a woman who worked in the office) and a n---- in the back (Beasley). That's all I need.'"

In the next point, Free adds, "Turner would refer to Mr. Beasley and the other African-American employee at LES as 'my n-----s' during conversations with LES staff and supervisory employees."

The City of Lewisburg is also named in the suit. According to their website, the members of the Power Board are Joe Moss (chairman), Councilman Steve Thomas, and Eddie Tears.

The suit states, "The City of Lewisburg -- by and through members of the Lewisburg Power Board -- was placed on notice no later than 2011 that Defendant Turner was alleged to have frequently engaged (in) racial harassment and discrimination ... (and) sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

"His continued employment and management of LES, notwithstanding Lewisburg's knowledge of his illegal activities, lent Defendant Turner an aura of invincibility that prevented Mr. Beasley and other employees from coming forward to complain of his illegal conduct. The City failed to perform any investigation or take corrective action, notwithstanding its actual or constructive knowledge of Defendant Turner's unlawful conduct."

Thomas was unable to comment on pending litigation, but said when the Power Board held a special-called meeting this week they discussed the fact that Turner might be resigning for health reasons.

The suit states that Beasley is seeking reinstatement, promotion to warehouse manager, back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as costs, expenses, and attorney's fees.

The legal representative for Turner is listed as Walter Bussart, but he was not available for comment when the Tribune went to press, nor were other members of the Power Board. The city's attorney is Steve Broadway.

The LES Board of Public Utilites will hold their regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 24, at 599 West Ellington Parkway.