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Williamson County sued for alleged discrimination against former Black employee

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Posted at 12:24 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 16:45:02-04

FRANKLIN, Tennessee (WTVF) — A former Williamson County employee has now sued the governmental entity for alleged discrimination during his time as a general sessions judicial magistrate as the only Black employee.

Timothy Cotton filed his complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle Tennessee District last week. Per the suit, he alleges he never received a promotion because of his skin color and his white counterparts received more favorable job treatment than himself. Williamson County officials ended his employment September 2020.

"Mr. Cotton was subject to racially insensitive comments and passed over for promotion multiple times," Cotton's attorney Heather Moore Collins wrote in the lawsuit. "He complained to his superiors, who failed to provide an environment free of harassment and discrimination and failed to take any steps to prevent or remedy the same. Instead, Williamson County has demonstrated a pattern of retaliatory behavior against Mr. Cotton each time after he complained of the discrimination."

Part of his tenure with the Williamson County government, which spanned more than two decades, also meant he suffered name-calling from his superiors, according to the suit.

"Notably, one of the deciding officials for a supervisor promotion stated that they did not need any 'lazy n****rs' in the office regarding Mr. Cotton’s 2012 application for promotion," Moore Collins wrote in the suit.

Cotton originally filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the Williamson County government. From there, the agency said enough time has elapsed for him to file suit in federal court over his alleged missed promotion opportunities within his job track.

"In 2019, Tommy Heithcock, a white male, and a lesser qualified individual, was promoted over Mr. Cotton," Moores Collins wrote. "The defendant’s cited reason Mr. Cotton was not promoted was because of his lack of leadership skills. The County had not given Mr. Cotton any opportunity to exhibit leadership skills as it continued to refuse to promote him."

Cotton also alleges his employers asked him to drop his 2019 EEOC charge or wouldn't be reappointed to his position, the lawsuit stated.

"Instead, Williamson County offered to reappoint Mr. Cotton temporarily until his retirement date, but only if he withdrew his EEOC charge," Moores Collins wrote in the suit. "Williamson County presented Mr. Cotton with a contract, which stated that if he agreed to release and waive all his claims, that they would reappoint him as a magistrate commissioner. On Aug. 27, 2020, Mr. Cotton met with Judge Taylor and Judge Andre. During this meeting, Judge Taylor told Mr. Cotton that he would be allowed to retire if he 'dropped' his 'dispute.' To clarify Judge Taylor meant his pending EEOC complaint, Mr. Cotton stated, 'are you referring to my EEOC complaint?' To which Judge Taylor responded, 'whatever,' which Mr. Cotton inferred meant the affirmative."

In light of the suit, Cotton and his attorney are asking for a jury trial, back pay and damages for lost benefits; compensatory damages for embarrassment, humiliation, stress, anxiety, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life; attorneys’ fees and expenses; and prejudgment interest and, if applicable, post-judgment interest.

No trial date for the matter has been set. The Williamson County government said it doesn't comment on pending litigation.