Days before a jury trial was set to begin, North Charleston settled a more than 3-year-old lawsuit filed by a former firefighter, who claimed the city retaliated against her for complaining of sexual harassment.
Laura Seaton became a North Charleston firefighter in early 2006, and was fired two years later, after telling the city she planned to resign. In between, she "was subject to sexual harassment, discrimination and a hostile work environment," according to her lawsuit.
That Seaton was subjected to unlawful harassment was not in dispute. A captain, who was her supervisor, was fired in June 2007 after a year of complaints about his treatment of Seaton, which including touching her inappropriately and making lewd comments, according to a listing of the facts of the case by U.S. District Judge David C. Norton.
At issue in the lawsuit, as it headed toward a trial, was whether the city had retaliated against Seaton for reporting the harassment. Her employment was terminated following a flurry of written reprimands, eight of which were issued within two weeks of the firing of the captain Seaton had accused of harassing her.
Seaton claimed in the lawsuit that she was written up for offenses, such as using profanity, for which other firefighters were typically not disciplined.
Additional claims by Seaton of defamation and allowing a hostile work atmosphere were decided in the city's favor as the litigation moved through the legal system, but Norton ruled that it should be left to a jury to decide Seaton's retaliation claim. The city had argued Seaton allowed too much time to pass before filing the claim.
With the case headed to trial in mid-January, the two sides agreed upon a mediated settlement of $65,000, which North Charleston City Council approved Jan. 23.
"We recognized that there were some issues," said Brady Hair, a lawyer for the city. "We are not acknowledging any wrongdoing."
Jennifer Munter Stark, Seaton's lawyer, said a confidentiality clause prevents her from discussing the settlement or the case.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552