Lee Co. sends cease-and-desist letter to Black campaign

Bill Lee’s plumbing and HVAC company has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the campaign of rival Republican gubernatorial candidate Diane Black, calling for the removal of information about the company’s treatment of a veteran who was once employed there.

The Tennessean reports that the company said the Black campaign was “deliberately misrepresenting” the facts surrounding the legal dispute between Lee Co. and an Army National Guard member who claimed wrongful termination in a federal lawsuit.

“We have learned that the Diane Black for Governor campaign is deliberately misrepresenting actions taken by Lee Company that relate to a former employee who served as a Tennessee National Guardsman,” according to the letter by Lee Co. general counsel Jason Hale. “You have also misrepresented our company’s attitude toward and treatment of veterans in these communications.”

A Black campaign website shortly afterward removed material about the case and instead linked directly to a Tennessean article about the lawsuit.

Black spokesman Chris Hartline said the campaign received a “vague letter that does not dispute any specific allegations.”

Cease and Desist Letter – Lee Company

“We are committed to the truth and await further clarification about what they believe is incorrect in the Tennessean’s story,” Hartline said in his statement.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in 2009, William O. Roark III alleged he was wrongfully terminated by the Lee Company on at least two occasions after he was deployed. Lee Co. denied wrongdoing, and a judge dismissed the claims from the earlier of the two incidents. The company said Roark was laid off amid the Great Recession in 2008. The two sides then settled the case, which is not the same as an admission of guilt.

In its cease-and-desist letter, the Lee Co. cited a recent mailer Black’s campaign sent out related to Roark’s lawsuit, one of which said: “Bill Lee’s business was told by the U.S. Army they were violating his rights. They did it anyway. Even worse, Bill Lee’s business didn’t dispute his claim that he was fired while he was deployed — instead, their defense was that the soldier waited too long to sue.”

Another mailer says: “They protected our freedom and what did Bill Lee give them in Return? A Pink Slip.”

The Lee Co. letter says the company has always supported veterans and that “with these communications, you have willfully made false and misleading comments about Lee Company without any regard for the truth, and your attempts to spread defamatory material have caused serious and irreparable injury to Lee Company.”

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