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Former employee files suit claiming Northeast State, ETSU "blacklisted" her after she filed complaint

Zach Vance • Mar 22, 2018 at 8:33 AM

Northeast State Community College, East Tennessee State University, the Tennessee Board of Regents and employment agency Bright Services are all named as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by a former ETSU and Northeast State employee claiming she can’t get hired now due to being “blacklisted” or “blackballed.”

Kingsport resident Kathy Campbell, 60, claims she has applied for 50 clerical positions at ETSU, five positions at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and even submitted an application with an employment agency, but has yet to get a job anywhere.

According to the lawsuit, Campbell believes she can’t get hired because she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, in July 2015 while working in Northeast State Community College’s human resources department.

Campbell alleges Northeast State Human Resources Director Tyra Copas began discriminating against her due to her religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage. The lawsuit states that Copas changed Campbell’s job description, harassed her verbally and would not allow her to transfer to another department.

Campbell eventually contacted an attorney with the Tennessee Board of Regents, or TBR, who recommended she file a complaint with the EEOC.

“Unfortunately, NESCC’s hostile work environment did not stop. The continuing hostile work environment caused the plaintiff to develop severe situational anxiety. She had to take a medical leave from work from Oct. 13, 2015, until Jan. 12, 2016,” the lawsuit states.

“When the plaintiff returned to work, HR Director Copas threatened to perform an early unfavorable performance evaluation on her before the EEOC mediation which had been scheduled for Feb. 22, 2016. Director Copas told the plaintiff that she would not like what she, Copas, had to say about her at the EEOC mediation.”

Following that, Campbell claims she experienced additional anxiety and mental distress, and her physician eventually put her on a second medical leave on Jan. 28, 2016, which was to be effective “until the hostile work environment conflicts with HR Director Copas were resolved.”

Campbell’s paid leave expired on Feb. 16, 2016, and Northeast State denied her request for extended paid sick leave. Northeast State officials eventually “demanded” she return to her former position by May 2, 2016, or be considered to have resigned, the lawsuit states.

In April 2016, Northeast State and the TBR offered Campbell a “settlement” in order to dismiss the EEOC charges, but the lawsuit states the settlement contained a condition that Campbell could never apply for or accept employment at Northeast State, a TBR school or a state of Tennessee government employer.

Campbell, who is represented by Kingsport attorney Charlton Devault, refused to accept the TBR’s “punitive, unlawful, and retaliatory settlement demand,” according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC sent Campbell a “right-to-sue” letter in January 2017, but Campbell states she did not pursue legal action at the time, instead opting to apply for administrative work with various employers in Northeast Tennessee.

Campbell claims she had 14 interviews for positions at ETSU, but was never hired. She even applied for ETSU’s “temp pool,” the lawsuit states, and received one phone call, but still was never hired.

“Campbell avers that (Northeast State) and the TBR are currently doing exactly what they illegally intended to do to the plaintiff in 2016 when they illegally demanded that she agree not to seek employment with any state institution or agency,” the lawsuit states.

Campbell contacted ETSU Human Resources Director Tammy Hamm in early 2016. Copas allegedly told Campbell that Hamm did not want to hire her back because she was a “high-risk employee.”

Based on information in the lawsuit, Hamm told Campbell there was nothing in her file to prevent her from being rehired.

The lawsuit also claims the “black-balling” extended to other state agencies, as she applied for jobs at Mountain States Health Alliance, the Tennessee Department of Conservation, and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and still was never hired.

She also applied in late 2016 with employment agency Bright Services to get a job anywhere in the Tri-Cities, but never received a call back.

In March, she attended a Bright Services hiring event that listed various clerical positions available, yet she claims the employment agency never referred her to any of them.

Eventually speaking to “Manager Marcus” with Bright Services, he told Campbell there was no guarantee of a job. “Manager Marcus” also refused to tell Campbell what her reference checks revealed and would not give her telephone numbers to Bright Services’ corporate office, the lawsuit claims.

Campbell is seeking compensatory damages and an award for lost wages and benefits against each of the defendants. She is also seeking reinstatement to her administrative assistant position at Northeast State or a comparable position with comparable pay with any state agency, including ETSU.

Northeast State and ETSU officials would not comment for this story, and Devault did not return a call from the Johnson City Press.

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