VOL. 126 | NO. 93 | Thursday, May 12, 2011
Handy-Clay Re-Files Job Dismissal Lawsuit
By Andy Meek
The former public records coordinator for the city of Memphis is still challenging in court her dismissal from the job late last year.
Bridgett Handy-Clay has filed a lawsuit against the city in Shelby County Circuit Court, and she’s appealing U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson’s dismissal of the federal lawsuit she filed over the same matter in December.
Handy-Clay has appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Her attorney, former Memphis City Council member and now private attorney Carol Chumney, said the original federal complaint included a mix of state and federal charges.
Anderson dismissed the state charges “without prejudice,” which meant Handy-Clay was free to re-file them in state court.
“It’s substantially the same complaint,” Chumney said. “We’ll proceed in state court and at the Sixth Circuit now.”
The original lawsuit claimed Handy-Clay was wrongfully dismissed for “refusing to remain silent” about and reporting allegations of nepotism and abuse of city policies among city employees and officials. Among the defendants named were Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and city attorney Herman Morris.
In a press conference prior to Handy-Clay filing the lawsuit, the city’s chief administrative officer George Little said her firing had nothing to do with the issues she raised and that it wasn’t an attempt to silence her. He said it was instead based on an evaluation of her performance, among other things.
Anderson’s dismissal includes a reference to those comments from Little and said they seemed to concern nothing more than “improper or inadequate performance” and “are not otherwise defamatory.”
“According to the amended complaint, City CAO Little addressed the media and stated that plaintiff was terminated for failure to follow unspecified policies and procedures and for a poor attendance and leave record,” Anderson’s dismissal reads.
Handy-Clay was appointed as the city’s public records coordinator in July 2007 by former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. Later that year, Herenton beat both Chumney and Morris for re-election to the term from which he resigned in 2009.
Handy-Clay’s position as public records coordinator made her the first line of response to members of the media who requested any kind of public record from the city.
One line that jumps out of her suit – and it might seem ironic, considering Handy-Clay’s former job – reads: “There was an entrenched ‘culture’ at City Hall to disclose only the bare minimum needed to comply with any given public records request and conceal as much as possible from the public.”