Timothy Wheeler is suing Shanks and Knox County in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
He's seeking unspecified damages. Wheeler alleges Shanks violated his constitutional rights, including that of free speech, as well as his rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Shanks dismissed Wheeler, 54, in April 2015. He'd worked for her since 2001, most recently as her chief deputy.
In March 2015, according to his lawsuit, he underwent hernia surgery, for which he was eligible for leave under the medical leave law.
He was supposed to be out four weeks, according to the lawsuit. Wheeler took leave from March 25, 2015, to April 15, 2015.
On April 16, 2015, when he reported back to work, Shanks told him she was moving him to General Sessions Court, which she also oversees. She wouldn't let him get to his former officer, where his personal belongings were stored, according to the lawsuit.
MORE: Copy of lawsuit
Wheeler then went to Mark Jones, Knox County's human resources manager.
He told Jones he thought Shanks was "retaliating against him," the lawsuit states.
Also, he told Jones he thought Shanks was doing things that were wrong in the office, including "knowingly continuing to pay full-time wages to a former employee and friend of hers who rarely, if ever, reported to work, ie. a 'ghost employee.' "
Wheeler previously has identified that person in a separate lawsuit in state court as Ray Hill, who still works for the office. As a result of his report to Jones, Wheeler alleges, he was terminated.
He alleges he was exercising free speech when he talked with Jones, and he alleges Shanks failed to give him due process in his dismissal.
Wheeler's termination notice listed "office reorganization" as the reason he was let go. He earned almost $82,000 annually.
Last year, Wheeler filed a lawsuit against Shanks under the false claims act. It alleges that Shanks paid Hill for work he didn't actually do.
Hill has declined comment about the action.
Records show Hill was hired in September 1998 by Shanks. For years, Hill worked at home because of a long-standing ailment, but subsequently returned to work in the juvenile court department.