from the Circuit Court for Knox County No. 1-273-16 Kristi M.
case involves the dismissal of a Tennessee Human Rights Act
(THRA) action filed by Jamal Watson against the Tennessee
Board of Regents (TBR) and Pellissippi State Community
College (PSCC) (collectively the defendants). PSCC offered
Watson a fulltime, tenure-track position, but subsequently
rescinded the offer. Watson filed a THRA case in the Circuit
Court for Knox County (the trial court) against the
defendants alleging race discrimination. He later filed a
notice of claim for breach of contract in the Tennessee
Claims Commission against the same entities. The defendants
filed a motion to dismiss in the trial court alleging that
the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The defendants
asserted that Watson waived his cause of action against
"any state officer or employee, " pursuant to Tenn.
Code Ann. § 9-8-307(b), by filing a claim against the
state in the Tennessee Claims Commission. The trial court
granted the motion to dismiss. Watson appeals. We reverse.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
Richard Everett Collins, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Jamal Watson.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter,
Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General, and Colleen E.
Mallea, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for
the appellees, Tennessee Board of Regents and Pellissippi
State Community College.
Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John W.
McClarty, J., joined.
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE
the 2014-15 academic year, PSCC hired Watson for an adjunct
teaching position in its English department. While serving in
that role, Watson completed the application process for a
full-time, tenure-track position for an opening in the
department. The process included a background check. PSCC
eventually offered him the tenure-track position, which
Watson accepted. Subsequently, PSCC rescinded the offer due
to alleged discrepancies in his background check.
then filed a complaint in the trial court. He alleged that
the defendants had discriminated against him on the basis of
race in violation of the THRA. While that case was pending,
Watson filed a notice of breach of contract claim against the
same defendants in the Tennessee Claims Commission.
Watson filed the notice of claim with the Commission, the
defendants filed a motion to dismiss in the trial court.
According to the defendants, "under Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 9-8-307(b), [Watson] waived his cause of action when
he filed a complaint in the Tennessee Claims Commission . . .
." Watson asserted, however, that "[o]nly claims
against a 'state officer or employee' can be waived
by the filing of a claim in the Claims Commission." He
argued that "there are several ways to describe PSCC. It
is an institution of the State; it is an arm of the State; it
is a department or division of the State capable of employing
state 'officers' and 'employees, ' but it is
not itself a 'state officer or employee.' "
Code Ann. § 9-8-307 provides, in pertinent part, the
(a)(1) The commission or each commissioner sitting
individually has exclusive jurisdiction to determine all
monetary claims against the state based on the acts or
omissions of "state employees, ...