A former Williamson County employee has filed a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
The employee says the discrimination prevented him from being considered for and obtaining promotions throughout his three decades of employment with the county.
According to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, the plaintiff, Timothy Cotton, was first employed by the Williamson County Government in 1991 and served as a judicial magistrate in General Sessions court from September 2012 until his termination in September 2020.
According to the complaint, that position was re-named as judicial commissioner and Cotton was the only African American in the department where he was the "subject of ongoing race discrimination, and was passed over for promotion multiple times due to discrimination and retaliation."
The complaint alleges that unnamed "deciding officials for a supervisor promotion" stated that they did not need any “lazy n****rs in the office” in reference to Cotton's 2012 application for promotion.
The complaint details that in 2014, the court's supervising magistrate position was ending and becoming the lead magistrate position which would rotate every six months in order to allow all of the judicial commissioners to serve in the supervisory role and be paid a higher rate during that rotation.
Cotton and his lawyers allege that the position never rotated and was given to the same person, a white woman, from February 2014 to Spring 2016, at which point the advertised rotating position was changed to a standard supervisor position which was appointed to a white man.
The complaint alleges that Cotton was continually passed up for promotions, even as he had decades more experience that others who were promoted, all of whom were white men, and in 2018, Cotton filed his first U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge, which resulted in no findings.
In 2018, Cotton was written up following an unspecified "prank" after previously receiving positive employment reviews, and upon his continued passing of promotions, Cotton filed a second EEOC charge in 2019.
"After Mr. Cotton’s filing of the 2019 EEOC charge, he was informed that he would not be reappointed to his Magistrate position. Instead, Williamson County offered to reappoint Mr. Cotton temporarily until his retirement date, but only if he withdrew his EEOC charge," the complaint reads.
Cotton continued to be passed up for promotions with the county citing “his lack of leadership skills,” but according to the complaint, Cotton was never given the opportunity to exhibit any leadership skills.
The complaint details that internal conversations continued between Cotton and other employees, including two judges, into 2020 before Cotton decided not to accept the agreement to drop the EEOC charge.
Cotton was then terminated as a judicial magistrate on Sept. 3, 2020, six months before he was eligible to retire.
Cotton attempted to amend his 2019 EEOC charge to update that he had been terminated, but EEOC recommended that he file a new charge, which he did.
Cotton was further employed with the county in a position with less pay until he was "constructively discharged" on March 5, 2021 "due to the ongoing and continuous discrimination and retaliation."
The complaint charges that the county committed race discrimination Title VII, retaliation - Title VII, race discrimination/harassment under the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA,) retaliation under THRA.
Cotton is requesting a jury trial; back pay and damages for lost benefits; reinstatement or front pay; compensatory damages for embarrassment, humiliation, stress, anxiety, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life and for compensation for attorneys’ fees and expenses.
In an email to the Home Page, a lawyer for the county government disputed the allegations and they are expected to address the particulars of the complaint in a future court filing.