Ridley resigned unexpectedly on March 28, citing neglect of “important family and (private) business matters.” He owns a poultry farm in southern Murray County.
In his letter of resignation Ridley made no mention of any complaints against him.
Murray County government released a statement on April 7 that said the county was the subject of an EEOC complaint. The press release detailed that “a complaint of employment discrimination (has) been filed against the county,” but did not mention Ridley, who is named in the complaint along with Murray County.
Longtime county employee Charlene Miles filed the Charge of Discrimination. She is represented by attorneys McCracken Poston of Ringgold and Stuart James of Chattanooga.
Miles has not answered several messages left on her home phone. A man who answered the door at Miles’ home in Chatsworth on Thursday said she was not at the residence.
No criminal complaints of any type have been lodged against Ridley, according to Chatsworth Police Chief Terry Martin, Murray County Sheriff Howard Ensley and District Attorney Kermit McManus.
In the complaint filed by Miles she alleges that Ridley continuously made sexual advances and remarks to her for more than a year. She alleges that in February 2010 Ridley “forced her to give him oral sex” at her trailer.
The complaint states that the sexual harassment continued from then until February of this year and that the acts ranged from his “removing his penis from his pants to reaching up (her) skirt.”
The complaint also alleges that Ridley told Miles he would get her a stripper for Valentine’s Day and that he would often “speak of sexual acts with Ms. Miles and has also reached his hand down the front of her pants ...”
Miles said Ridley looked at pornography on her work computer from October through February, and asserts that several incidents of sexual comments “constitute sexual discrimination, harassment and create a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”
The complaint states the alleged acts “created a work environment that suppressed anyone from complaining of the actions of (Ridley) ... and were designed (to) suppress women in the office, to create an atmosphere of fear ... of dominance and sexual dominance, and to prevent any complaints to any other outside source.”
“Consequently, any complaints of sexual harassment were impossible due to the male dominance and sexual dominance displayed by Commissioner David Ridley,” the complaint concludes.
At his poultry farm on Thursday, Ridley said he was advised by his attorney, Greg Kinnamon — who also serves as legal counsel to Murray County — not to speak to the allegations.
“They’re just allegations,” Ridley said.
Asked how he was feeling, Ridley replied, “Pretty good — until today (when the allegations became public).”
“I’ve done my job 110 percent,” he said of leading the county. “I want what’s best and didn’t want to put my family through that. I want what’s best for Murray County.”
Timeline of complaint
Interim Sole Commissioner Tom Starnes said on Thursday the county received “notification” of the complaint on April 6 by mail from the EEOC. He said he has not seen the complaint that includes Miles’ allegations.
He said he was unaware Ridley was going to resign, saying he received a call from Kinnamon on March 28 asking him to come to Kinnamon’s Dalton office, where Ridley gave him the letter of resignation.
Asked if he was aware of allegations that Ridley viewed pornography on an office computer, Starnes again said he had not seen the complaint.
“I have been advised not to speak about the suit by (Kinnamon),” he said. “What can I say? We take these charges seriously. The citizens of the county expect and deserve for us to act in the best interest of the county.”
Starnes said the mailed EEOC notification was brought to his attention late on the afternoon of April 6, and he released notice of it to news outlets the next day.
“The situation is that we are considering these allegations as serious and they are being carefully reviewed,” he said. “I am being advised to make no further comments than that.”
Starnes said the county is also represented by the Freeman, Mathis and Gary firm of Atlanta. Kinnamon said Ben Mathis represents Travelers Insurance, which insures the county. Kinnamon said he could not comment further at this time.
Personnel Director Tommy Parker said Miles has worked for the county for almost 29 years. On Thursday he said she had left for the afternoon.
District Attorney Kermit McManus said on Thursday he is not aware of any charges filed against Ridley or any criminal investigation directed at him. Chatsworth Mayor Tyson Haynes said Police Chief Terry Martin told him early Thursday evening that “no one had come forward, there was no call of a complaint or leveling of a charge” against Ridley. Ensley also has said he has received “no complaints whatsoever” against Ridley.
The EEOC did not immediately respond to a request for information about the next phase of the process.
Filing an EEOC complaint
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains on its website (www.eeoc.gov) how a person goes about filing a potential Charge of Discrimination.
“If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, you can file a Charge of Discrimination,” the website states. “All of the laws enforced by EEOC, except for the Equal Pay Act, require you to file a Charge of Discrimination with us before you can file a job discrimination lawsuit against your employer ... ”
The website states that if a person files a charge he or she may be asked to try and settle the dispute through mediation: “Mediation is an informal and confidential way to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral mediator. If the case is not sent to mediation, or if mediation doesn't resolve the problem, the charge will be given to an investigator.”
If an investigation finds no violation of the law, “you will be given a Notice of Right to Sue,” the website states. “This notice gives you permission to file suit in a court of law. If a violation is found, we will attempt to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If we cannot reach a settlement, your case will be referred to our legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If we decide not to file a lawsuit, we will give you a Notice of Right to Sue.”
The EEOC says in some cases, if a charge appears to have little chance of success, or if it is something the commission doesn’t have the authority to investigate, the charge may be dismissed without an investigation or the offer of mediation.