The director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority said mediation is a possibility in the gender discrimination complaint filed by the former director of the county's three airports.
"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."
The resolution to the nearly year-old dispute with ex-airports Director Sue Stevens does not have to involve money entirely, Aviation Authority Chairman Andy Savage added. He did not elaborate.
Stevens' attorney, Nancy Bloodgood, said she didn't know what to make of the board's statements.
"It sounds like they don't want to pay any money," she said. "What are they going to do, hire her back?"
A nearly two-hour closed-door meeting Monday came one week ahead of scheduled mediation between the two parties and could signal a resolution is in the works. No decision was made on the complaint.
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 Bloodgood. That probably won't occur until the day of mediation June 23, they said.
Bloodgood said she tries to wrap up mediation in one day because when it runs over, it becomes more difficult to reach a resolution.
Campbell said mediation could take more than one day.
Bloodgood confirmed mediation is still on for next week, but Aviation Authority officials waffled when asked about talk of resolution, saying they would have to confirm it.
"We really are where we started this morning," said Savage, a defense attorney who has been involved in mediation cases before. "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.
Bloodgood would only guess that they were talking about insurance to help pay for any settlement.
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 since they requested a settlement.
"Before I file a lawsuit, I always try to resolve it without litigation," Bloodgood said. "That's pretty standard."
Eleven of the 13 airport board members were present, including state 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, but he has sent a proxyto sit in for him for the past 18 months.
Limehouse said he attended because his appointee could not be there.
"It was informational," said Limehouse, who said members were asked not to discuss what transpired. "It was a very cordial meeting."
Absent board members included Charleston 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 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."
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.
Limehouse also said he didn't care if the case goes to court because, he added, everything Stevens said about him has been proven to be unfounded.
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.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.