Lawmakers have passed a bill to revamp the Tennessee Human Rights Commission after the commission’s director retired earlier this year under allegations of verbal abuse and mistreatment of employees.
In February, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Beverly Watts resigned following a state investigation that found she had created a toxic work environment through profanity. , demeaning language and micromanaging to the point that she asked front desk clerks to email management for permission to use the break room.
“I am deeply disappointed in the false accusations that have been brought against me,” Watts said when announcing his retirement. “I have always tried to lead this organization with dignity and professionalism.”
The bill, sponsored by R-Madison County Rep. Chris Todd and R-Riceville Sen. Mike Bell, resets the commission’s board, causing all of their terms to expire later this year.
The legislation does not dissolve the council but gives the governor, speaker of the House and president of the Senate the ability to appoint three new members each beginning September 1.
Todd told the Tennessean that the board was either oblivious to Watts’ actions as executive director or knew about it and did nothing.
“The purpose of this bill is to put in place guardrails,” Todd said.
The Tennessee Human Rights Commission is responsible for enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The commission’s job is to investigate complaints of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation based on race, nationality, religion, sex, disability, marital status and age.
At least three people have filed charges against Watts. Several former human rights commission employees spoke to The Tennessean about Watts, confirming many of the allegations confirmed in the human resources report.
Democrats have slammed the bill as a personal vendetta by Todd, who has worried about the council’s actions for years.
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The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly, but ran into Democratic opposition in the House. The House passed the legislation by a vote close to the party line of 67-28.
The legislation, filed under HB2877now awaits Governor Bill Lee’s signature before becoming law.
Adam Friedman is the political and government reporter for the state of Tennessean. Contact him by email at [email protected]
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