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Government & Politics

Prior To Resigning, TN Veterans Services Chief Courtney Rogers Accused Of Abusive Conduct

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Two top leaders of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services who resigned last month were accused of misconduct, records obtained Monday by WPLN News show.

Gov. Bill Lee’s office announced Monday that Courtney Rogers had resigned as the department’s commissioner, and a spokesman for Lee confirmed to separately that Tilman Goins had also resigned as deputy commissioner. Rogers and Goins both served in the state House of Representatives from 2012 to 2018.

In a statement, Lee said Major Gen. Tommy H. Baker has agreed to serve as the department’s interim commissioner.

Records obtain through an open records request show that Rogers was investigated for abusive conduct, harassment, discrimination based on race and sex prior to her resignation on Nov. 25. The allegations were made by multiple current and former department employees.

“The allegations included frequent yelling and belittling employees, inappropriate comments made in public, and use of racial and homophobic stereotypes and slurs,” reads a memorandum summarizing the investigation .

According to the Tennessee Department of Human Resources, the agency received a complaint from an employee on Sept. 25. By Oct. 23, the investigators had found “sufficient evidence to substantiate that the accused subjected TDVS employees to abusive behavior, and discriminatory comments based on race and sex.”

Rogers is the third commissioner to step down from the Lee administration since the end of October.

Danielle Barnes announced Oct. 27 she was leaving her post at the Department of Human Services and returning to the private sector. That same day, Hodgen Mainda announced he had stepped down from his position of commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Mainda was investigated for sexual harassment prior to his departure, including allegations of unwelcome sexual advances and touching. An investigator found insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations made against Mainda by an employee of the Department of Commerce and Insurance, but they referred the matter to Gov. Bill Lee’s office on Sept. 23 for “review and appropriate handling.”

I’m sick of your stupid mouth!’

The person who filed the complaint against Rogers — who is not identified in the investigation summary — alleged that while in a car with her in October 2019, the then commissioner yelled at her.

“I’m sick of your stupid mouth!” the employee reported Rogers yelled at her. “I’m going to quit and tell the governor it’s all your fault!”

Another witness corroborated the accusations. Rogers did not recall the yelling occurring.

The investigation also found that multiple witnesses interviewed had alleged that Rogers subjected two employees — one current and one former — to abusive behavior. Witnesses said Rogers subjected the former employee to “excessive yelling, persistent criticism in front of subordinates, and public degrading in an unreasonably harsh tone.” Rogers admitted to losing her temper with that employee.

Witnesses also accused Rogers of publicly berating a current employee. She admitted to raising her voice.

Allegations of sexism and racism

During a visit to a military base during an unspecified date, witnesses corroborated that Rogers said members of a specific race were “prostitutes who slept their way into the United States.” Rogers “did not deny making the statement and did not recall in what context she would have made the comment,” the investigation summary states.

Also, during a mediation involving her department, Rogers referred to the other party as “another black guy looking for a free ride.” She denied making this statement and said that “she may have referred to the individual as ‘someone sticking it to the man.'”

Additionally, Rogers is accused of using a racial slur during a phone call with the agency’s leadership “when describing the events that took place at a meeting to discuss diversity and equity based on race.”

According to investigators, the information gathered corroborated that Rogers did use the slur.

Top deputy found to have had inappropriate relationships

In a separate case, the Tennessee Department of Human Resources investigated two complaints filed on Oct. 23 alleging inappropriate relationships involving Veterans Services Deputy Commissioner Tilman Goins.

In one instance, investigators found sufficient evidence that Goins engaged in a “romantic or sexual relationship” with a subordinate. Investigators used text messages from both parties to reach their conclusion.

In that case, Goins claimed he didn’t believe the relationship happened while the employee was a subordinate. However, it violated the state’s code of conduct.

Goins claimed he’d been harassed by the employee, but investigators did not agree.

Meanwhile, witnesses reported “certain conduct” between Goins and a second employee that seemed inappropriate. But both Goins and the employee denied being in a romantic or sexual relationship. In that case, investigators found insufficient evidence.  

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