After serving as director of the Manchester Public Works Department for over 12 years, Brent Carter was demoted to work at the wastewater treatment plant in December of 2018.
Now Carter is suing the city of Manchester, saying he was given the option of being terminated or accepting a demotion by Mayor Lonnie Norman when he voiced concerns to aldermen that the mayor was pushing his public works department to purchase things from businesses with political connections to Mayor Norman.
“Due to pending litigation I am unable to comment on the specifics of the complaint,” Norman told Thunder Radio News in an emailed statement. “It is the city’s position that we will vigorously defend the allegations in the complaint.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court by Carter and his attorney, Drew Justice on November 13. Gerald Ewell is the attorney for the city of Manchester.
In the lawsuit, Carter claims that once the mayor learned that Carter had purchased supplies at a business not connected with Norman, the mayor would call Carter and urge him to “buy local,” which, according to Carter, meant to make purchases at businesses that were politically connected to Norman and his friends and not at businesses that offered better pricing.
Carter also claims in his lawsuit that Norman threatened to fire him if he spoke with any aldermen about decisions, which is part of the basis for Carter’s litigation. Carter claims the city violated his first amendment and Tennessee Public Employee Political Freedom Act without due process. Carter’s suit claims that by threatening to fire him and then demoting him in retaliation for his acts of speaking to an elected official, the city of Manchester violated Carter’s PEPFA rights.
The PEPFA says that it shall be unlawful for a public employer to discipline or discriminate against employees who exercised his or her rights to communicate with an elected official.
Carter’s lawsuit claims that he eventually took his concerns to then alderman Cheryl Swan (who did not seek reelection in 2018). After bringing concerns to Swan in August of 2018, Carter was told in December of 2018 by Norman that Carter had the option of being demoted or fired. He moved to the wastewater department on Dec. 4. This in turn meant a $25,000 cut in pay.
Carter is seeking back pay, front pay, loss of retirement and health benefits, compensatory time off, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and treble damages.
As of the filing of the lawsuit, Carter remains employed with the city. He was first hired as public works director in 2006.