Former Ridgeland police employees file discrimination lawsuits

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comAugust 27, 2013 

Two former Ridgeland police employees are accusing the department and the town of discrimination, one because of his race and the other because of her gender, according to lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court.

James Gordon, a former police officer, and Antonia DeNicola, a former victims' advocate, filed separate suits last year in U.S. District Court.

Gordon worked for the police department from August 2005 until his firing in March 2010. His suit, filed Dec. 19, 2012, alleges that Police Chief Richard Woods and Capt. Frank Mador denied him promotions to supervisory roles because he is black. Woods and Mador chose less-experienced white officers instead, the suit says.

DeNicola -- who worked for the department from 2005 until she was transferred to the town's water department, then fired in 2011 -- alleges in her lawsuit filed last September that she was sexually harassed by Woods, Mador and Sgt. Chris McIntosh from March 2010 until her transfer in January 2011.

THE RACE SUIT

Gordon's suit alleges he was fired after filing a harassment report about a Jan. 8, 2010, meeting, in which Woods told him he was not being promoted to lieutenant because Gordon had decided to run for Hampton County sheriff. The suit also claims Woods threatened to fire Gordon if he "continued to be insubordinate."

After the meeting, Woods and Mador placed a tracking device on Gordon's car, the suit alleges, and Woods assigned Gordon to work a 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. graveyard shift at the department.

Gordon lost the 2010 Democratic primary against incumbent Sheriff T.C. Smalls, getting about 15 percent of the vote, according to S.C. state elections data. However, his lawsuit claims he had not declared his candidacy when the conversation with Woods took place.

On Feb. 9, 2010, Gordon filed a complaint with the S.C. Human Affairs Commission, a state agency that reviews employment discrimination cases. On March 17, 2010, Woods asked Gordon to meet about the discrimination charge. After Gordon's attorney advised him not to attend, Gordon was fired.

Gordon was hired by the Hardeeville Police Department in October 2010 and was fired in December 2012, after he was accused of assaulting an employee at the Department of Juvenile Justice office in Ridgeland. Gordon was charged in May with third-degree assault and battery related to that incident, according to an S.C. State Law Enforcement Division report.

Gordon's attorney, William B. Harvey III, said his criminal case has no bearing on his lawsuit. Harvey said Gordon's trial is scheduled for Oct. 5.

Gordon received a notice of the right to sue Ridgeland on Dec. 17, 2012, five days after the alleged assault took place.

THE HARASSMENT SUIT

DeNicola's suit alleges she was transferred, then fired in retaliation for reporting harassment against her, including an incident in which McIntosh cursed at her several times on Jan. 6, 2011.

According to the suit, Woods told DeNicola in March 2010 he wanted her to respond whenever he rang a bell in his office. The lawsuit also says that, to get laughs, Woods would ring the bell when visitors were in his office.

In June 2010, he told DeNicola he had heard a story about her cooking in the nude. Mador and Woods would frequently tell DeNicola she was their "old pony," and Mador at one point told her he was dreaming about her, the suit says.

Woods and Mador both declined to comment on the pending lawsuits. Attempts Tuesday to reach McIntosh for comment were unsuccessful.

After reporting the Jan. 6 incident, DeNicola was moved to the water department against her wishes, according to the suit. DeNicola lost more than $600 a month in wages and overtime pay, $400 a month for cleaning the police department's office and use of a town vehicle, the suit alleges.

After her transfer, town manager Jason Taylor told DeNicola she would receive a raise and he would reinstate her lost income, but neither materialized, the suit says. In March 2011, she was written up by town clerk Penny Daley for taking a sick day that Daley said was not allowed.

Both Taylor and Daley declined to comment on the pending lawsuits.

DeNicola filed her complaint with the S.C. Human Affairs Commission in October 2011, receiving a right-to-sue notice in June 2012.

TOWN DENIES CLAIMS

Attorneys representing the town and police department denied Gordon's claims on Jan. 24, 2013, and DeNicola's on Oct. 26, 2012, asking in each instance that the claims be dismissed, according to court records.

Katherine Phillips, a Columbia attorney representing the town and police department, reiterated the denial Tuesday but declined to comment on specifics of the cases.

"We don't believe there is any merit to these lawsuits," she said. "The town will be vindicated."

Harvey, lawyer for both Gordon and DeNicola, also declined to comment on specifics of the cases but said each lawsuit is in the discovery phase.

"We feel both cases are meritorious, and we hope to have our day in court," he said.

Both former employees seek lost wages and lost medical benefits as a result of their firing, as well as punitive damages and attorneys fees.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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