2 lawsuits brought by Bluffton police pending in federal court

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BLUFFTON

2 lawsuits brought by Bluffton police pending in federal court

By ALLISON STICE
astice@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, July 2, 2012   |  797 Words  |  

As one Bluffton police officer seeks damages in state court for alleged mistreatment at the Bluffton Police Department, four others have filed complaints at the federal level.

In one case pending in federal court against the town, three officers who left the force in 2007 allege the department fostered a "racially hostile" work environment, in which two sets of policies -- one for white officers and one for minority officers -- were in place.

In another federal suit against the town, an officer who also is a member of the Army National Guard, said he didn't receive a bonus and was harassed and berated when his military service kept him from work.

Chief David McAllister, who has been with the department since 2006, called both complaints "the epitome of frivolous lawsuits."

"We expect to prevail in court," McAllister said.

McAllister announced his retirement from law enforcement in May and will leave Aug. 1 for a private-sector job, the details of which he has not disclosed. He says pending litigation against him -- and settlements paid to a former Bluffton lieutenant to drop age-discrimination suits against the town -- had nothing to do with his decision.

"(Lawsuits) have become the cost of doing business in the public sector, with lawyers always looking for quick settlements," he said.

Meanwhile, the town and police department are being sued in state court by Christian Gonzales, a Bluffton police officer who says he was unfairly demoted for complaining about McAllister.

3 ALLEGE DISCRIMINATION

Former officers Thomas Loving and Charlene Webber, who are black, and Gerald Brown, identified in the lawsuit as Hispanic, allege in 2011 court filings that job postings were circulated among white officers but not minority officers.

All three resigned in October 2007, citing racism in hiring and promotions. They also said they were subject to retaliation and harassment for complaints they made and that McAllister tried to make them look bad when they made plans to join the Hardeeville Police Department, where all three currently work.

Separate complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed in 2008, the suit said. McAllister contends the officers have produced no evidence or credible witnesses to support their allegations. He also said he did not attempt to discredit them at the Hardeeville department.

The town's response to the suit also denies the charges. Town manager Anthony Barrett declined comment Monday.

Attempts Monday to reach the plaintiffs' attorney, Donald Gist of Columbia, were unsuccessful.

The case is assigned in U.S. District Court, and the deadline for all pretrial motions is Aug. 31.

SUIT: MILITARY SERVICE COSTS OFFICER

Officer Mark Dorsey, who also enlisted in the Army National Guard, said he was called to active duty many times since 2003, including a tour in Afghanistan and another to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

When he returned from an assignment in September 2011, he said he was not given a bonus that all other officers received. He also stated he was targeted for discipline and harassment as a result of his military service.

Dorsey is suing the town under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and is represented by Nancy Bloodgood of Charleston. Bloodgood won $236,000 in two settlements for former Bluffton police Lt. Katherine Sours. She is also serving as co-counsel for Gonzales.

Bloodgood declined to comment Monday on active litigation.

McAllister said the suit comes as a shock because the town and the department "did everything to accommodate" Dorsey.

"He did not properly notify us about his (tours of service)," McAllister said. McAllister also said that, while USERRA guarantees a job for employees who have served in the military for up to five cumulative years, Dorsey has accumulated "substantially more" service than that.

The town's response to the suit also mentions that Dorsey's military service "was not under honorable conditions" and that he scheduled himself for duty and service that was not required by military superiors.

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  1. Bluffton police officer files suit against police chief, town manager, June 27, 2012
  2. Bluffton police chief announces resignation; private-sector job in Atlanta awaits, May 29, 2012
  3. Former Bluffton police officer settles age-discrimination suit for $150K, May 30, 2012