Monday, June 16, 2014

Charleston, South Carolina: Airport board makes no decision, 'can mediate in good faith' on ex-director's gender discrimination complaint

Charleston County Aviation Authority made no decision Monday on the gender discrimination complaint filed by the former director of the county's three airports, but the director said mediation is a possibility.

"We can certainly mediate in good faith," said Airports Director Paul Campbell. "We want something that allows us to run the airport in a cost-effective manner."

Aviation Authority Chairman Andy Savage added the resolution to the nearly year-old dispute with ex-airports director Sue Stevens does not have to involve money entirely. He did not elaborate.

The nearly two-hour, closed-door meeting came one week ahead of scheduled mediation between the two parties and could signal a resolution is in the works.

Stevens resigned in July, not mincing words about some board members and how they treated her.

No financial amount has been put on the table by either side, according to Savage and Stevens' attorney, Nancy Bloodgood. That probably won't occur until the day of mediation June 23, they said.

Savage, a defense attorney who has been involved in mediation cases before, said immediately after the meeting, "We really are where we started this morning. ... I sense that there is goodwill to do what's in the best interest of the Aviation Authority. There are a lot of missing pieces."

He declined to say what those pieces are.

The next step Savage said is to follow the advice of their attorneys.

When asked what that was, outside attorney Jenny Horne, a state lawmaker from Summerville hired to represent the agency in the Stevens' matter, responded, "Confidential."

Campbell added that the resolution is it up to Stevens and her attorney.

Eleven of the 13 airport board members were present, including Rep. Chip Limehouse,

who butted heads with Stevens on several occasions. It was his first time attending a meeting since he stepped down as chairman in January 2013. Limehouse is still a member of the board because he is chairman of the Charleston County legislative delegation, but he has sent someone else to sit in for him for the past 18 months.

Limehouse did not comment, and a call to him after the meeting was not immediately returned.

Absent were area tourism head, Helen Hill, and businessman Mallory Factor. He is not seeking reappointment to the board because of commitments to teach in England during the next year.

In a prior interview, Savage said several of the board members do not want to compromise, but the he believes it's time to put the case to rest.

"I think it's in all of our best interests to get it resolved," Savage said. "We need to move on. There is a great incentive on my part to bring this case to closure without violating any principles of the Aviation Authority."

The sudden movement to move toward mediation comes as the prospect of a federal lawsuit looms. The 180-day period ended in early June since the authority was first served last fall with the complaint filed with the S.C. Human Affairs Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That opens the door for Stevens' attorney to move forward with a federal lawsuit. Bloodgood said she has not filed the suit, but is prepared if mediation fails.

The Aviation Authority realizes a protracted public legal battle would continue to dredge up and prolong the internal turbulence that has rocked the agency over the past two years.

Stevens alleges that because she's a woman, she was belittled and talked down to by some authority members of what was at the time an all-male board. While her complaint for now isn't public, her letter of departure in July gave a glimpse of her grievance.

"They believe I am an incompetent woman," Stevens wrote of some board members. "Several male members ... belittle me due to my gender. No man would be treated in this way."

Bloodgood said the original goal, including a fair settlement, was to compel changes in what some have called a "dysfunctional board" that would have benefited the policy-making process of the agency and the community.

The goal now is to settle the case.

"It looks like we are making progress," Bloodgood said last week. 

Story and photo:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.