Lawsuit accuses ex-Beaufort County judge of sexual harassment

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comJune 21, 2013 

One of the three women who filed sexual-harassment complaints against a former Beaufort County Probate Court judge last year is now suing him and the county.

Tiffany L. Poloschan filed suit June 11 against retired Judge Francis M. Simon, alleging she was harassed while she worked as his assistant.

Simon and the county breached Poloschan's contract by failing to correct the problem, the suit alleges. Poloschan was forced to quit her job as a result of the sexual harassment she faced, her harassment complaint with the county said.

Poloschan's suit seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages.

Poloschan's attorney, Fred W. Kuhn Jr., said neither he nor Poloschan would comment on the suit. County staff attorney Josh Gruber also declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Attempts to reach Simon for comment were unsuccessful.

The suit says the county was negligent in allowing Simon to foster a "pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment" and that its policy to report sexual harassment failed Poloschan.

The 85-year-old Simon was Beaufort County's probate judge for nearly 18 years before he announced his retirement June 22, 2012. At the time of his retirement, Simon had two years left on his term.

A month later, sexual-harassment complaints filed against Simon between May 18 and 22 of that year by three female employees became public.

All three chose to remain anonymous when the complaints first surfaced, making Poloschan's lawsuit the first time that any of the women have been identified publicly. In July, two of the women who filed complaints against Simon said they didn't plan to pursue legal action. The women, commenting anonymously, said they were satisfied because Simon had retired.Poloschan, the first of the three women to file a complaint with her employer, was on the job just more than two months when she quit and filed her grievance, according to her complaint. A copy of Poloschan's complaint was included with her lawsuit.

In her complaint, Poloschan said she began to notice Simon's unusual behavior in April when she was interviewing for the position. Poloschan said in the complaint she had an informal interview with Simon at a Wendy's restaurant, where Simon asked about her family history, appeared to caress her hand and called her "appetizing."

Poloschan's complaint centered around a graphic conversation she had with Simon on May 14, 2012, in which she alleges that Simon told her about his recent sexual encounters. She said the conversation made her sick to her stomach and that she vomited when she recollected it the next night.

After then-Assistant Probate Court Judge Kenneth Fulp Jr. was told of the conversation, Simon talked to Poloschan and acknowledged the conversation had gotten "out of control," according to Poloschan's complaint.

Her lawsuit says that by the time she returned to work May 17, Simon had defamed her by telling each of the other 12 female court employees individually that she had initiated their graphic conversation.

Two other women also filed complaints against Simon in May 2012. One filed a complaint May 18, two days after Simon allegedly ended a conversation between the two by asking, "But you still love me, right?" The employee also said that Simon had made inappropriate sexual comments in previous conversations.

The third employee filed a complaint against Simon on May 22 after he made inappropriate comments about her dress and told her that he could fire her "anytime I want," according to her complaint.

At the time, Simon declined to comment when asked whether his retirement was related to the allegations. He was first elected in 1994 and was re-elected five times, running unopposed in each election.

After Simon's retirement, Fulp was appointed Probate Court judge by Gov. Nikki Haley. Fulp will serve the rest of Simon's term, which ends in December 2014.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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