As we told you Thursday, Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones last week filed a lawsuit against one of the women who has accused him of sexual harassment. Today, we can tell you that the lawsuit was filed against former Courier News reporter Heather Miller.
The lawsuit filed last week seeks $1 million from Miller, who according to Jones’s complaint, gave “untrue and defamatory” statements to the Human Resources Department last fall that have “exposed and continue to expose him to wrath, public hatred, contempt, and ridicule; also, that it is depriving him of public confidence and social interaction.”
Miller gave a sworn statement to the Human Resources Department on September 16th, 2017 in which she alleged that Jones had made inappropriate comments to her at he opening celebration of the Coal Creek Miners Museum in Rocky Top in March of 2016.
In her statement, which WYSH has alluded to previously but not reported on, Miller said that she and Jones had run in to each at the opening of the museum and the topic of conversation turned to silkie hens, a particularly fluffy breed of chicken. She said that a recent report of some of the fowl being stolen had led to jokes about the bird, as she had never seen them before, and she thought it was “goofy looking” and should be the mascot of the paper.
Jones, who was friends with her then-boss, allegedly said “Well, I have a Silkie hen in my–under my office desk that you could see.”
Miller said she replied, “What?,” to which he is accused of asking, “Well, do you want to see it?”
Miller responded, according to her statement, that,, “No. No I don’t.”
Miller says the encounter left her “creeped out” and that she tried to avoid situations that put her in close proximity to Jones despite the nature of her job.
Miller, whose name was redacted in documentation obtained by WYSH last month, is being identified now because of the public nature of the lawsuit.
She also told HR personnel that she had heard “rumors” about Jones allegedly saying “inappropriate things, the sexual–sexually explicit things to those employees, female employees, and that hwas, I think, trying to pressure them to have sex with him and that the ones, I gues, who didn’t want to were transferred to another location, and basically intimidated them.” She told interviewers that she had heard those rumors from several individuals.
Jones also alleges in the suit that he believes that Miller entered into a conspiracy with other individuals to damage his reputation by falsely accusing him of sexual harassment.
The lawsuit is seeking $1 million in damages.
Earlier this week, a federal lawsuit seeking an unspecified amount in damages was filed in US District Court in Knoxville against Jones and the county government by Gail Harness, a former deputy clerk in the office who is currently on paid leave. She alleges violations of “the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, “to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex in public employment.” The complaint alleges that Jones has “subjected Plaintiff (Harness) and other women working under him to unwanted sexual advances, unwanted touching, intimidation, threats of retaliation, retaliation, and epithets offensive to women,” creating what the suit calls a hostile working environment.
The lawsuit also accuses the county government of not doing anything to curb Jones’s alleged behavior despite having received complaints against Jones as early as 2014, just after he took office.
As we have reported, documents indicate that Mayor Terry Frank was told of one situation in 2015 but never did anything about it, but Frank says she followed the recommendation of then-HR Director Russell Bearden, who wrote in a memo, “I repeatedly tried to contact [the complainant], by phone, to discuss the differences in the stories and to try and get any additional information. I have [the complainant’s] resignation text to [an employee’s] phone in which she made no mention of any type of harassment. Based on the two matching statements (from Jones and the staff member) and the inability to get [the complainant] to contact me back, I consider this matter closed unless more information comes forward.”
We have also previously reported that an email exchange between Bearden and County Law Director Jay Yeager contradicts a statement given to WYSH by Yeager and two sworn statements by Bearden that Yeager was never notified of the 2015 allegation “because Russell was instructed not to tell me and he followed those orders from his direct superior, the mayor. I knew nothing of the incident until briefed in September of 2017. I knew nothing of the 2016 incident where the husband went to the mayor and made additional allegations, and neither did HR because the mayor did not tell my office or HR.”
The Anderson County Commission is expected to discuss the allegations during Monday’s regularly-scheduled March meeting, as Mayor Frank will seek approval to hire independent legal counsel to examine several facets of how the case was handled by the county, and could possibly seek approval to file a complaint with the state Board of Professional Responsibility, which governs attorneys in Tennessee, against Yeager over his handling of the case.
Jones has denied all of the allegations against him, which to this point include at least six women, and claims that the accusations are politically motivated. He is seeking re-election in the May 1st Anderson County Republican primary, challenged by former County Mayor Rex Lynch.