Charleston County sheriff sued for breach of contract related to 2021 settlement
CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A federal lawsuit filed this week alleges the sheriff of Charleston County failed to make good on several promises outlined in a 2021 settlement.
When Rickie Biggs sued her employer, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, in 2018, she wanted to make sure that no one else would be in her shoes again.
Wishing to combat both the sexual harassment in the workplace she experienced and the very reporting system that further traumatized her, the deputy worked out a deal with Sheriff Kristin Graziano.
Graziano, who was not in charge at the time of Bigg’s sexual harassment allegations, agreed not only to a $200,000 payout but several proposed changes to the department.
But as it stands now more than a year after the paperwork was signed, no meaningful change has come her attorney claims.
Marybeth Mullaney, who represents Biggs, says her client would not have signed the agreement without the promised changes.
Those promised changes include Human Resources taking over investigations related to sexual harassment, an advocacy program for employees wishing to file a complaint and mandated anti-harassment and anti-discrimination lessons included during annual block training, according to the settlement paperwork.
The settlement provided a deadline of January 2022 for many of the stipulations. The documents were finalized in July 2021.
“We understand that there may be issues with implementing these changes right away,” Mullaney said. “And so that’s why we gave them extra time. It’s been too long, and the changes need to happen. It’s past due.”
The lawsuit mentions former deputy Joyce Smith, who also sued the sheriff and the department last month, alleging that she had gone to HR to report sexual harassment but was turned away back to Internal Affairs. The documents also state that only detention staff is required to go through anti-harassment training, not the entire department.
The settlement also included that the sheriff’s office’s sexual harassment policy be updated to reflect current standards with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Records show that the policy has not been updated since 2013.
In Biggs’ initial lawsuit, she claimed she had been sexually harassed by two supervisors.
She claimed that the investigation that followed violated her rights to privacy as intimate details of her personal life were not kept private and divulged throughout the department.
She took a temporary absence under the Family Medical Leave Act as a result.
“Nobody wants to report sexual harassment because once you report it, you know it changes the whole trajectory of your career and that’s what happened with Rickie,” Mullaney said.
Mullaney says it is not about the money but about ensuring employees will be protected down the line.
“In fact, if these changes are implemented next week, we will dismiss this lawsuit,” Mullaney said. “I will pay for the cost and will not seek any attorney’s fees. I mean, this is just really wholeheartedly about bringing about positive change in the Sheriff’s Office.”
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said the sheriff was not available to comment on this pending litigation.
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