Ex-Rite Screen employees file lawsuit over firing

Two former employees of the Elizabethton Rite Screen plant have filed a lawsuits against the company in the Circuit Court of Carter County.

  By Thomas Wilson
star staff
  Two former employees of the Rite Screen Inc. facility in Elizabethton have filed separate lawsuits against the company and a company employee alleging retaliatory termination for what they claim as refusing to remain silent over alleged harassment of a fellow co-worker.
  Filed in Carter County Circuit Court, both lawsuits name Rite Screen, M I Windows and Doors, and Rick Peters, identified in the complaint as a Rite Screen employee, as the defendants.
  Plaintiffs David H. Woods and Donald Jack Ellison allege Rite Screen and M I Windows violated the Tennessee Public Protection Act and further allege Peters interfered with their employment.
  According to the lawsuits, both men say they refused to participate and remain silent about the alleged discrimination and harassment of a co-worker. Ellison and Woods say they were the subjects of constructive retaliatory discharge as a result of their refusal to condone or participate in the alleged activity of ridiculing the co-worker's religious beliefs and subjecting the person to sexual ridicule and innuendo, according to the lawsuit.
  The lawsuit describes the employee, who was not identified by name in either complaint, as a young man approximately 5 feet, 4 inches in height who had deeply held religious beliefs. The lawsuit alleges the employee was ridiculed as a result of his religious beliefs by a supervisor, referenced as Peters, and he was "humiliated time and again by being referred to in profane, derogatory and sexual terms."
  The lawsuit alleges the supervisor would refer to the individual in derogatory terms.
  In Ellison's suit, he states he conferred with a supervisor identified as Charlie Campbell about the mistreatment of the co-worker on several occasions. Ellison states he encouraged the co-worker to call the company's corporate office in order to stop the alleged harassment. The lawsuit claims the co-worker did so but was later terminated.
  Ellison alleges that in December 2003 his immediate acting supervisor who the complaint identifies as Peters accused him of trying to kill a co-worker identified in the lawsuit as Don Campbell. Ellison's lawsuit contends the allegation constituted criminal liable and the accusation resulted in his termination. The complaint states the employer filed a separation notice for Ellison but did not specifically accuse him of trying to kill the co-worker. The complaint states his termination was attributed to horseplay with a chemical disinfectant. The alleged horseplay incident was characterized as "an absolute falsehood" in the lawsuit.
  Woods' complaint states that during April 2003 he was subpoenaed to testify at an unemployment hearing for an employee who had been harassed by supervisors. The complaint says Woods testified unfavorably to the employer, resulting in his experiencing difficulty with the supervisor and other managerial personnel at the plant.
  Woods alleges that both he and Ellison became subjects of harassment as part of an effort to terminate the employment of both men, according to the complaint. His complaint states he was accused of horseplay with a chemical disinfectant along with Ellison in December 2003, resulting in both men's termination from the company. Both men had been employed at the Rite Screen facility since 1994, according to the lawsuit.
  Dorothy Isenberg, plant manager at the Elizabethton Rite Screen facility, said Tuesday she was unaware of the lawsuits filed against the company. She did confirm Peters was an employee at the Elizabethton facility but said he did not presently nor had he previously held any supervisory position at the plant.
  "We will have to check and see what it is all about," she said.
  A telephone call made to another Rite Screen representative regarding the employment history of the parties involved in the lawsuit was not returned on Tuesday.
  Ellison and Woods are seeking $100,000 in punitive damages and $100,000 in compensatory damages against Rite Screen and M I Windows. The lawsuits also seek $100,000 each in compensatory and punitive damages from Peters.
  The plaintiffs' attorney, Bob McD. Green of Johnson City, filed both lawsuits last week. Green declined to comment about the lawsuits on Tuesday.
  Rite Screen's Elizabethton plant employs over 100 workers and is owned by M I Windows and Doors. According to the Web site of M I Windows and Doors, the company is a subsidiary of J.T. Walker Industries with 3,000 employees in 12 plants across the United States.