The Town of Bluffton has settled a lawsuit filed by a former police lieutenant who alleged she was unfairly demoted and laid off, but town officials refuse to disclose the terms of the settlement.
Katherine Sours, 54, who joined the Bluffton Police Department in 2006, was demoted from a supervisory position to a patrol job in February 2009, then laid off the following June, according to the suit.
Her demotion came a month before the department received national accreditation, an effort Sours had led, her suit alleged.
In her wrongful termination suit, filed five months after her layoff, Sours alleged police Chief David McAllister demoted her in retaliation for her complaints about his "inappropriate and unprofessional conduct," then laid her off because he feared she would report him for favoritism and a lack of professionalism.
Her layoff occurred during town budget cuts, but Sours argued in the suit that two other lieutenants with less seniority kept their positions.
In its response, the town acknowledged the two lieutenants "had less overall experience in law enforcement compared to (Sours)," but had more experience in South Carolina law enforcement. Sours joined the Bluffton Police Department after retiring from the Coral Gables, Fla., police department.
The settlement was reached during a four-hour mediation in Charleston May 26.
On Tuesday, Town Manager Anthony Barrett said he would "not release the amount" of money agreed to in the settlement, and referred questions to Town Attorney Terry Finger. Finger could not be reached for comment, nor could David S. Black, a Beaufort attorney who represented the town in the case.
Sours and her attorney, Nancy Bloodgood of Charleston, also refused to discuss the settlement, citing a confidentiality agreement signed by both parties.
In a similar settlement in 2007 involving the Beaufort County School District, the S.C. Attorney General's Office said details on settlements involving public bodies could not be kept secret. The opinion was supported by a 2003 state Supreme Court case.
Sours, who said she had an unblemished record during her three years with the department, alleged in her suit that McAllister made "sexually derogatory and inappropriate" comments and "intimidated and embarrassed the employees he supervised."
McAllister denied Sours' allegations, and was supported by town officials.
On Tuesday, McAllister said he did not attend the negotiations, and didn't know the terms of the settlement.
It was unclear Tuesday whether the town itself would have to pay the settlement amount or the money would be paid by the state's Insurance Reserve Fund.
Sours also has filed an age discrimination complaint with the S.C. Human Affairs Commission and with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which she alleges McAllister made comments about her age on numerous occasions.
Those cases are pending, according to Bloodgood.
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Bluffton denies claims made in lawsuit filed by former police lieutenant, March 2, 2010
Former Bluffton police files age discrimination complaint, Dec. 3, 2009