NASHVILLE, TN – Last year, 21 workers in Foster Care in the DCS Clarksville office wanted to file a class action lawsuit against the department head, Heather Jeffries, for harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and malfeasance.
Nicole Ramey counted more than three-dozen complaints against Jeffries when she worked in Human Resources for DCS. (See Clarksville Chaos)
The Clarksville Foster Care staff couldn’t find an attorney to take their case. The legal barriers to class action lawsuits in a right to work state like Tennessee is a hill too steep to climb, especially for state workers who want to sue the government.
So M. Haynes went through normal DCS channels to file her complaint. An Iraqi War veteran, she interviewed seven times for supervisor positions in Foster Care in Clarksville. Haynes said three times she was not given veteran’s preference and would have been selected had Jeffries followed the rules.
“I worked for DCS for seven years. I thoroughly enjoyed it up until the last year,” Haynes said.
Rough Trade in Clarksville
She said Jeffries would announce new policies during staff meetings that were contrary to DCS written policy. “DCS required certain tasks to be completed within 90 days. Ms. Jeffries wanted us to do it in 30 days,” Haynes said.
“If you pissed her off you had to come to detention,” she said. The detentions started in May 2020 right in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown when everyone was supposed to be working from home.
“If you were on her lists, then you had to come in and work in front of her,” Haynes said. Thirty people met in a crowded conference room with their laptops to complete work that was due within 14 days.
“Multiple caseworkers contracted COVID and we still had to come in. You just had to have a mask,” she said.
“It became less about the children and families and it was all about reports and numbers, “ Haynes said.
Haynes filed a complaint in June 2020. “They didn’t do anything,” she said.
Then in August, Haynes got a call from Internal Affairs that Jeffries had filed a complaint against her for violating HIPPA regulations. Tellingly, Jeffries filed her action against Haynes about something that happened four months earlier and one month after Haynes filed her complaint against Jeffries.
“It was pure retaliation for filing my grievance against her for unfair hiring practice,” she said. “I never did what they said I did,” she added.
Haynes had two children who needed temporary foster placement and she wanted to keep them out of state custody, so she told the 76-year-old father to go see her pastor and find out if there was anyone in the congregation who might want to take the two boys, 15 and 16 years old.
“I never revealed their names to my pastor or anything else that violated HIPPA regulations,” Haynes said.
The teenagers were placed in state care and Haynes got two days suspension without pay from Jeffries for trying to find them a safe haven. She went the extra mile but got punished for it. Ironically, the DCS recruits foster parents with requirements, explanations, and links on a “Become a Foster Parent” webpage.
DCS Internal Affairs Director Atif Williams would not discuss the case but since Haynes never got back those two days’ pay, we can assume Jeffries’ complaint was upheld.
Haynes said her pastor backed up her side of the story but it made no difference to Williams. Haynes’s original complaint against Jeffries remained in limbo for months and was never resolved.
The Anatomy of a Cover Up
Summer slipped into Fall. “Williams told me it was still under investigation,” Haynes told the Tribune. But it wasn’t. Williams swept it under the rug and planned to keep it there.
“In December it got to the point that everyday it was something new, something ridiculous. It was petty. They had fired so many people at that point I was walking on eggshells and I felt like I was going to be the next one. It didn’t matter that I was vested. I’ve seen people who worked 14 years and they walked in and fired them and walked them to the door,” she said.
Haynes sent Commissioner Jennifer Nichols a resignation letter December 8, 2020, giving 30 days notice. Nichols forwarded the letter to Williams. Haynes talked to Williams the next day.
“Atif assured me they’d get to the bottom of it,” Haynes said. She filed the paper work to reopen her case on December 15. “Send me your private information and we’ll send you the report and we’ll be in contact,” Williams told her.
Williams waited until January 13, 2021, to reopen the case when Haynes was no longer a DCS employee. That two-week delay insured Jeffries would not be held accountable.
Seven months went by. Haynes asked Williams for a status report last month.
Williams sent her an email on July 13, 2021. He said since she was no longer a DCS employee, she was not allowed access to internal reports nor did she have a right to know what happened to the investigation of her original complaint against Jeffries.
The Tribune has interviewed more than a dozen DCS employees who have filed grievances against their supervisors. When supervisors discipline subordinates, the consequences are swift and often vindictive. When employees file complaints against their supervisors, the investigations are slow and are often never completed.
DCS supervisors can be petty tyrants and get away with it because they know complaints against them will not go anywhere. It’s a perfectly corrupt system that protects the guilty and punishes the innocent.
The Tribune contacted Williams about the Haynes case last week. Haynes received a certified letter signed by DCS Affirmative Action Officer Monica Hardaway. The letter said they received her complaint on January 13, 2021. That is not true. Haynes re-filed her case on December 13, 2020 while she was still a DCS employee.
The letter informed Haynes that her second complaint had been dismissed. She wasn’t surprised. Not only did IA fail to report the findings of her original case but DCS claimed there was not enough evidence to support her allegations in their second investigation. Of course not. They buried it. The intervention of Commissioner Nichols made absolutely no difference to the outcome.
“There’s been two investigations and it’s been over 12 months at this point and nothing is going to be done,” she said.
“I would rather spend 100 days or more in the war zone in Iraq than go one more day in that office,” Haynes said.