Published January 30, 2012
| Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Several people who tried to go to a Tennessee Valley Authority board meeting in costumes including Santa Claus and a pirate are suing the utility, which banned such getups after people protesting a nuclear plant dressed up as zombies.
In July, the protesters in Chattanooga dressed as zombies in an effort to convince TVA officials not to re-start construction of the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Alabama, where work had stopped in 1988. Soon after, the utility banned costumes at its meetings in an effort to avoid disruptions.
In August, the four wearing costumes were not allowed to enter a TVA board meeting in Knoxville. A fifth was kicked out of the meeting when he mimicked a zombie.
Those five and another person are asking a federal court to forbid the nation's largest public utility from banning costumes at future public meetings. The lawsuit seeks $50,000 in damages for each of the plaintiffs, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/wfkUnJ).
TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said the utility does not comment on active lawsuits.
The board agreed during that August meeting to finish building the nuclear plant, and the lawsuit also asks the court to set aside that vote.
The lawsuit says Chris Irwin, Bonnie Swinford, Matt Jones, Ricki Draper, Mark Homer and Margaret Rogers all came to the meeting. Irwin came dressed in a business suit but with makeup on his face; Draper dressed as Santa Claus; Homer came as Benjamin Franklin; and Rogers dressed as a pirate. Those in costume were turned away. Jones and Swinford were not in costume and spoke at the meeting.
While Jones was speaking, he made a joke about zombies being outside, mussed up his hair, raised his hands and made a low moaning nose," the lawsuit says. He was immediately told to leave.
The lawsuit says Swinford did not know whether Jones had been arrested, so she changed the speech she had planned. The lawsuit says that means Swinford's free speech rights were violated.
Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com