Zoo Denies Claim of Gender Discrimination

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Memphis Zoo president Chuck Brady - MEMPHIS ZOO
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The Memphis Zoo denies that a former female employee “was discriminated or retaliated against” because of her gender.

Kimberly Terrell, a female conservation biologist, sued the zoo in December. She claimed she was fired from her job as the zoo’s director of research and conservation based on gender discrimination.

Her attorneys are suing the zoo for damages in excess of $75,000, including back pay, lost benefits, employment reinstatement, punitive damages, and all court fees.

J. Mark Griffee, the attorney for the zoo, responded to Terrell’s original lawsuit in mid-March, saying her claims of discrimination were unfounded.

“Memphis Zoo denies Dr. Terrell was discriminated against or retaliated against on account of her gender,” Griffee wrote in one response to the many claims in Terrell’s original lawsuit.

In that original suit, Terrell painted a picture of an ongoing tension that grew between her and zoo president Chuck Brady. She said she’d built a “strong record of success at the zoo” but Brady increasingly attacked her performance and she felt it was because she was female.
The zoo’s attorney refutes this. Instead, he painted a picture of an ongoing “substandard performance of [Terrell’s] duties.” It was the reason, he said, Terrell received only standard bonuses and no pay raise one year.

Critiques of her performance and her ultimate firing came as “Dr. Terrell failed to address, change, or improve her substandard work performance at the Memphis Zoo.”

“…On Nov. 27, 2017, Dr. Terrell was terminated for failure to perform job duties as instructed, dereliction of duties, and willful misconduct,” reads the attorney’s answer to Terrell’s complaint. 

As for direct misconduct, zoo officials said Terrell “willfully disobeyed a clear, written, and direct order in September 2017” regarding the planned artificial insemination of one of the zoo’s elephants.

The zoo’s attorney said Terrell created a hostile work environment when she ”fired or forced the resignation of multiple employees.” Though, Terrell claimed her employees had “cordial relationships.”
The zoo denied a long list of accomplishments Terrell claimed in her two years with the zoo, including 15 new science projects and partnerships with groups like the University of Memphis, and the Omaha Zoo.

The zoo refuted the claim that Brady did not give Terrell regular performance reviews until she suggested his treatment of her was related to her gender. Also, the zoo’s attorney said Brady did take notes during the meetings, provided “pages” of feedback during subsequent performance reviews, and did give those notes to Terrell when she asked for them.
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However, the zoo admitted Brady called Terrell “emotional” at one point. But Brady said it was because Terrell demanded he fire all three of her employees. Terrell claimed Brady “repeatedly” called her “emotional“ when “she expressed an opinion with which Dr. Brady did not agree.”

The zoo also admitted Brady once described an internal conflict between Terrell and a colleague as “cat fighting.” Terrell said, though, Brady tempered the remarks by adding that “cat fight” wasn’t about gender because cats can be male or female.

However, the zoo attorney dismissed Terrell’s claims that Brady ever said, “there’s always some kind of drama going on that hen house,” in reference to the zoo’s marketing building. The zoo also denied Brady ever said (about women in the marketing department), ”you know how women are. I can’t control those hens.”

U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla ordered the case to be heard in a jury trial on Jan. 14, 2019. The trial is expected to last four days in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Western Division.

A for personal responses to the suit, Terrell tweeted that the episode was one of her top three personal accomplishments of 2017.

Terrell later added #metoo to a January tweet including a Memphis Flyer story on the suit.




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