Hampton Inn Downtown sued for retaliatory discharge

General manager accused of illegally terminating assistant GM, sexual misconduct

There must be something in Nashville’s water supply causing the recent onslaught of employment-based lawsuit filings — more specifically of the retaliatory discharge variety in which an employer finds itself under scrutiny for terminating an employee for reasons untrue. Allegedly untrue.

On Oct. 14 Joshmia J. Toney filed suit in Davidson County Circuit Court accusing MR Hotels d/b/a Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Nashville, his employer, of retaliatory discharge and other violations — all stemming from Toney’s removal, earlier this year, from his assistant general manager position at the hotel’s downtown Nashville location at 310 Fourth Ave. S.

“There’s a bunch of them out there,” said Frank J. Steiner of the Nashville-based law firm Steiner & Steiner. Steiner represents Toney and confirmed that hotel management was served papers Tuesday.

Other than retaliatory discharge, Toney is also alleging that his employer fired him for informing superiors of illegal activities occurring at the hotel, in direct violation of Tennessee’s Whistleblowers Act. Further, Toney alleges a hostile work environment for his manager’s sexual comments aimed at female employees who worked in proximity to Toney.

Here’s a brief summary of the events, taken from court documents, leading to the lawsuit.

Toney worked as an assistant general manager for Hampton Inn from July 2010, his hire date, through January 2011, his termination date. In his capacity as assistant GM, Toney was responsible for the hotel’s day-to-day operations. Toney reported to General Manager Don Hartley.

In September 2010, the hotel held a VIP client reception Hartley hosted, at which the hotel, according to the complaint, served alcoholic beverages without the proper license from the Tennessee Alcohol and Beverage Commission. This violation, the complaint states, “concerned Toney greatly.” In his role as assistant general manager, Toney was responsible to see that such violations did not occur.

Toney went to Hartley on several of those and voiced his concern about the continuing violations but those concerns were ignored, the suit alleges.

On other occasions, Hartley himself allegedly organized receptions at the hotel and had Toney serve as one of the hotel bartenders — knowing that Toney had concerns about the licensing or the lack thereof. Exacerbating the issue, Toney alleges, was the lack of individual bartender licenses that should have been issued by the state's ABC, but were not.

Toney further alleges that Hartley created a hostile work environment at the hotel by degrading women, humiliating and harassing them on a consistent basis. There were several specific instances enumerated in the complaint for which Toney said he confronted Hartley in an effort to get him to stop. Toney alleges Hartley would not.  

Toney became so frustrated with Hartley’s continuing acts that he called a meeting with Ronni Anderson, director of sales for Hampton Inn. Both met with Hartley specifically about the alcohol licensing but, according to the complaint, Hartley told them "to not worry about it.”

Other meetings and discussion took place, and all to no avail, the court documents note. Finally, Toney told Anderson that if Hartley didn’t cooperate and address the issues, he would approach the hotel’s owner, Tina Ehrig, with his concerns. This communication occurred on Jan. 18. Two days later, Toney was called into Hartley’s office in the afternoon and terminated for “gross misconduct” and accused of inappropriate communication and gestures with female employees, ironically similar concerns Toney had of Hartley.

Toney’s complaint states “the termination was a result of his expression of concern regarding Hartley’s illegal activities and conduct." He further states in the complaint he was fired for refusing to remain silent about the alleged illegal activities engaged in by Hartley.

Although it typically doesn’t happen quite this fast, Steiner confirmed that Hampton Inn has already been served papers notifying management of the lawsuit.

Hartley could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. Ehrig, the hotel's owner, was also unavailable.

Toney is seeking $486,000 in compensatory and other damages for pain and suffering, humiliation, embarrassment, back pay, front pay and lost benefits. He’s also requesting attorney's fees and punitive damages to the extent the court will allow.