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$153,955 Jury Award for TN Jail Guard Fired Over Support for Sheriff’s Election Foe

by Joe Watson

A mom who was fired from her job as a Tennessee jail guard because she supported the county sheriff’s election foe was awarded $153,955 in August 2008 by a U.S. District Court jury.

Christie Wimley had worked on the day shift for the Warren County, Tenn. Sheriff’s Department for more than eight years when, after the primary election of July 2006, she was called into a meeting and informed she was being demoted and moved to a night jailer’s position, which Wimley could not accept because she had children at home. Patty Boyd, the jail administrator, allegedly told Wimley she was being demoted because Boyd and Eddie Knowles, the Warren County director of jails, believed she did not support Sheriff Jackie Matheny during the primary election. When Wimley said she could not work the night shift, she was terminated.

Wimley filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee, a few months later, seeking $2,000,000 in compensatory and emotional damages, and alleging violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She alleged the defendants’ conduct violated her rights of free speech and free association by transferring her to a job they knew she could not accept and then discharging her solely because they believed she did not support Matheny.

Trial was presided over by Judge William B. Carter, and the jury returned a verdict for Wimley on Aug. 13, 2008, finding that Wimley was entitled to damages from Matheny and Warren County for back pay and mental or emotional distress totaling $45,705.23, and punitive damages from Matheny totaling $20,000. Wimley was later awarded attorneys’ fees of $ 88,250.17. See: Wimley v. Matheny, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Tenn.), Case No. 4:06-CV-00072.

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Related legal case

Wimley v. Matheny