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PTC sex suits settlement costs: $840K

PTC taxpayers on the hook for $61,000 in latest case

A new accounting of the cost of settling a sex and disability discrimination case against Peachtree City officials and police chief H.C. “Skip” Clark shows that Peachtree City taxpayers paid $60,905 directly to defend and ultimately settle the case.

The $300,000 settlement itself will be paid by the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Association (GIRMA) on behalf of the city.

All told, so far this year, the city has settled three cases involving either sexual harassment or sexual discrimination charges for a total of $840,000 in insurance payouts.

Though that’s roughly the equivalent of a half-mill in city property taxes, the city relied on its liability insurance carrier for the bulk of the payouts. However, the city’s taxpayers do pay for billable hours by its own attorney and for any increase in insurance premiums that may result from the three payouts.

In addition to a $25,000 deductible on the case that the city must pay to GIRMA and $5,000 in back pay the city will pay former police department administrative assistant Lisa Ficalore, the city has also racked up $30,905 in legal fees defending the suit over the past three-plus years, according to city documents.

That amount is at least five times what the city paid to defend outgoing Mayor Don Haddix in a libel lawsuit filed by current mayoral runoff candidate Harold Logsdon in 2011. Four members of the council in mid-2012 cut Haddix’s salary to recoup the $10,000 costs incurred by the city, contending that the lawsuit was brought against Haddix “in his individual capacity” and not as mayor.

That action was later reversed by the council after Haddix began proceedings to bring suit against them for enacting an illegal bill of attainder.

In the current Ficalore suit, all five members of the council also were sued in their individual capacities, just as Haddix had been. One of the five sued and voting for settlement is current mayoral runoff candidate Vanessa Fleisch.

The settlement approved Nov. 7 by the City Council ends Ficalore’s federal lawsuit, which claimed that Chief Clark retaliated against Ficalore based on her gender and her usage of medical leave for a disability.

The lawsuit claimed that Ficalore received two demotions after Clark became police chief in August 2010. The first demotion was to a lower-paying administrative position in the police department. The second demotion assigned Ficalore to City Hall in a position that was later eliminated by the city.

The city offered Ficalore a choice of six weeks’ severance pay if she resigned or she could take the position on a part-time basis, and she chose part-time.

The lawsuit was backed by an investigation conducted by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the settlement decision was made by GIRMA with little input from the city, except for a commitment to pay $5,000 in back pay to Ficalore. The settlement was reached following a mediation hearing between Ficalore, the city and GIRMA officials last month, city officials said.

During the EEOC investigation, there were allegations that Chief Clark interfered with the EEOC probe by intimidating two high-ranking officers who backed Ficalore’s allegations of disability discrimination and unlawful retaliation.

The EEOC issued a cease and desist order on Clark to prohibit such conduct, as Ficalore’s lawsuit alleged that Clark told one of the officers it would be “bad” if that officer didn’t back him (Clark) up on the matter.

City Attorney Ted Meeker said the decision to settle the Ficalore case was a financial one made in part due to “having to litigate almost every employment decision made over the course of the last two and a half years.”

Meeker in a statement Nov. 8 contended that none of Ficalore’s claims had any merit with the “possible exception” of a demotion Ficalore was denied after she was transferred from the police department to city hall. Ficalore’s lawsuit contended she was denied that promotion because the court clerk determined Ficalore might might have difficulty working with police officers based on her issues with the department.

Meeker said the city “immediately reversed that decision upon becoming aware of the court clerk’s comments.”

Meeker noted that in the past three years, four people have filed discrimination charges against the police department including Ficalore’s case. Of the others, two were dismissed and the third was settled for $1,000 before a lawsuit could be filed, he said.

This is, however, the second significant discrimination lawsuit the city has settled in 2013. In March a $350,000 settlement was approved with a female firefighter who claimed that former fire chief Ed Eiswerth made multiple sexual advances toward her including an incident in which he forced his way into her hotel room at a conference.

Also in March, the city settled another discrimination lawsuit for $190,000 to halt a lawsuit filed by a female firefighter over an incident in which a former assistant fire chief groped her breasts in a bathroom.

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