A Tennessee Department of Transportation worker who was cited for patronizing prostitution has been fighting to get his job back for the last 19 months.
Now, an administrative judge with the Office of the Secretary of State has ordered the fired worker be reinstated with back pay.
Charles Harbison was cited in May of 2011 by Metro police for patronizing prostitution while on duty. He was reportedly in uniform and driving his TDOT truck at the time.
According to police, Harbison agreed to pay a prostitute $15 for oral sex. Police say he even went to a nearby ATM and took out money for the transaction.
The prostitute was really an undercover Metro policewoman and Harbison was fired for what TDOT called "gross misconduct" and a violation of the department's ethics policy.
On July 28, 2011, Harbison requested a hearing before the Civil Service Commission. After numerous delays, five witnesses, including Harbison, testified.
According to court documents, other than the citation that got him fired, Harbison's only other infraction in his 12-plus years as a TDOT employee was a write-up "using his annual leave."
In early June of 2011, court records show Harbison attended "John school" and as a result, all charges against him were dismissed.
His lawyers argue that Harbison did not have sex and was not charged with a felony.
On May 23 of this year, Harbison petitioned the court to expunge his record.
His lawyers argued that other TDOT employees previously engaged in sexual conduct in TDOT trucks and were not punished. According to court documents, those employees were only suspended for five days without pay.
This past November, nearly 19 months after his arrest and termination, Judge Mary Collier found it in favor to reinstate Harbison.
In short, she wrote, "TDOT proved that Harbison committed the misconduct as charged, but TDOT did not prove that the misconduct warranted that he be terminated."
She continued, "Harbison's long term discipline free employment with TDOT shows that his misconduct on May 18, 2011, while inappropriate, was an isolated event that has little or no chance of reoccurring in the future. By working with the court system, Harbison has shown that he is ready and willing to place this event behind him and continue as an employee in state service."
Collier ordered that Harbison's termination be overturned and the discipline against him be reduced to a six-month suspension without pay.
B.J. Doughty, Director of Community Relations for TDOT, says Harbison was terminated for conduct unbecoming of a state employee, violation of ethics policy and misuse of state policy.
Doughty said the state department is appealing the judge's order that says Harbison should be given his job back.
She said, "We are appealing to the Civil Service Commission, which has stayed the order meaning that nothing will happen until they hear the appeal."
Doughty said the 19 months minus six months suspension without pay still leaves a salary for 13 months and that could easily cost taxpayers $26,000.
In the meantime, Doughty says Harbison has gained employment elsewhere.
"Our position is clear, we terminated him," she said. "We would prefer that termination remain in effect. When an employee commits an act like this, egregious in nature, we would prefer not to have that type of employees work for us."
Accordion to Doughty, no one has ever been suspended by TDOT for six months and brought back.
"The rule says employees can only be suspended for 30 days max," she added.
Nashville's News 2 Investigates spoke to Dale Quillen at the law firm representing Harbison. He declined to comment pending TDOT's ongoing appeal to the Civil Service Commission.
Thursday, August 28 2014 3:28 PM EDT2014-08-28 19:28:07 GMT
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