Two months after she accused Brookhaven’s former mayor of inappropriate behavior, a city employee claims J. Max Davis tried to bully her into changing her story.
“Mayor Davis threatened my employment by stating in a loud voice that he was going to fire people,” the woman claims in a retaliation complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to city correspondence with the federal agency.
The woman, who is not named in the documents, also said Davis “tried to intimidate and coerce [her] to state that [she] did not witness anything.”
Davis, now a candidate for the state House District 80 seat, says he never told the woman any such thing.
He also says the woman must have heard him joking with a receptionist in April that he was going to fire her. It wasn’t until later that same day, Davis said, that he learned from City Manager Marie Garrett that he’d been accused of spraying Lysol on another female employee’s buttocks, and that Garrett characterized the behavior as possible sexual harassment.
The woman who filed the EEOC complaint witnessed the incident.
Davis said he was upset, his heart pounding, and wanted to know why Garrett thought he’d committed sexual harassment. So he went into the witness’ office to ask her what she saw.
All she would say, according to Davis, was “No comment” and “You have nothing to worry about. No comment.”
“So she … heard my comment with another employee — not directed to her,” Davis said. “And after I came into her office to ask about it — she wouldn’t tell me — she built this thing in her head that she was going to be fired.”
The AJC has reached out to both the witness and the woman allegedly sprayed, and neither would speak to reporters.
A spokeswoman for the EEOC said federal regulations forbid the agency from discussing ongoing investigations.
An attorney for the city, Sharon Morgan, has told the EEOC that the woman’s retaliation claims are baseless because she still works for Brookhaven, with no changes to her employment terms or conditions.
“It is well known that the Mayor lacks the authority to fire City employees,” Morgan’s letter to the agency, dated June 16, says.
The letter also says the women told Human Resources Director Rick Stone that they did not want to file complaints or take further action.
Still, the witness told City Attorney Tom Kurrie that she considered the incident to be sexual harassment, saying she felt “embarrassed and humiliated.”
But in May, both Kurrie and Davis issued a news release saying neither employee inferred the incident was sexual or harassing in nature. Davis said he didn’t know at the time that the witness thought otherwise.
Kurrie also released an altered public record regarding the matter, then withheld it from the news media for weeks, contrary to state law. He resigned Tuesday night to avoid being fired by the city council.
It might have been only a minor affair in the new city of 50,000 if not for the city’s handling of it. Even if the accusations against Davis are true, it’s not clear the Lysol incident would meet the legal threshold for sexual harassment, according to an expert.
The EEOC’s website says it’s conduct that “explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment … The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.”
Brad Dozier, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in the area, said the legal test is severity and pervasiveness. If it’s one incident, it must be severe, he said. If it’s ongoing, it needs to be frequent.
Dozier said he “would doubt that an isolated incident (such as this) would meet the requisite test regarding severity and pervasiveness.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Staff Writer Craig Schneider contributed to this article.