Former Knox County employee reaches agreement with county in firing suit

Former Knox County Senior Director of Parks and Recreation Paul White has reached a resolution with the county following a suit that was sparked by his firing, according to officials.
Paul White
Paul White(WVLT)
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 10:24 AM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Former Knox County Senior Director of Parks and Recreation Paul White has reached a resolution with the county following a suit that was sparked by his firing, according to officials with Knox County.

White was fired following issues with his management style, officials said. The firing followed the revelation that White had been involved in the misappropriation of county resources, specifically a golf cart. The possible ethics violation was not a factor in White’s firing, however, according to county officials.

“Most, if not all, of the allegations included in Paul White’s complaint are disputed by multiple witnesses. Further, White himself admitted he never reported any illegal activity to law enforcement,” officials said. “His alleged oral complaints of illegal activity are denied by every other witness and not supported by any documentation or physical record.”

The settlement included a payment of $150,000 and an agreed-upon positive press release clearing White’s name of any ethics concerns, according to White’s legal representative, David Burkhalter II.

Instead, officials said that White was terminated due to his management style, citing harassment and toxicity, among other issues.

“I’m frustrated and angry our employees had to deal with bullying, harassment, embarrassment, and toxicity,” Mayor Glenn Jacobs said. “I can’t undo what happened but am proud of how our team responded and the changes that resulted. Ultimately, our Parks & Recreation department is in a much better place today.”

Several employees were interviewed during an investigation into White’s management. During those interviews, several complained that White would threaten employees with firing because they “disrespected” him. Additionally, employees shared an incident where White “hit on” a young woman who he was meeting with the department.

“This girl comes in. I’ve got daughters older than her. And Paul – we get up out of the room, and Paul is hitting on her the whole time,” one employee reportedly told county investigators. “Paul’s exact words were, ‘I took a Viagra last night and she was giving me a hard on. I had to.’”

“He’s power hungry, and I see him as a compulsive liar,” another employee said. “And when you put those traits together in a personality like his, in a power position, I think it creates a toxic work environment and one where we were all walking on eggshells and we were always having to be careful to not get fired because he got insecure over the littlest things and things that didn’t even exist.”

That same employee said that there were issues with White’s comments on people’s race or sexuality.

“There were times he’d say things like, ‘I’m not a racist, but…” and then it would off to something else. It could be perceived [as racist]. And sometimes he would make reference to sexuality, you know, a person’s preference,” they said.

Burkhalter released his own statement following the release from Knox County, calling it a “horrible hit job.”

Additionally, Burkhalter said that the firm is evaluating legal options for White.

White was officially terminated on Oct. 19, 2020.