A settlement is in the works for three former Bluffton police officers who sued the department in federal court, claiming they were discriminated against because of their race.
Minority officers Thomas Loving, Charlene Webber and Gerald Brown -- former Bluffton cops who resigned over working conditions in October 2007 -- have agreed to accept a total of $50,000 to drop their case against the town, Bluffton town attorney Terry Finger said.
Finger said town will pay for $5,000 of that settlement, with the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund paying the rest.
Officials with the reserve fund decided the amount based on an estimate of how much they would spend defending the town, Finger said. The town has denied the three officers' claims that racism in hiring and promotions caused them to leave the department.
"It is my understanding there has been a lot of discussion back and forth on this lawsuit of years ago," town manager Anthony Barrett wrote in an email. "As always the insurance provider wishes to settle these cases."
After resigning from the Bluffton Police Department, Loving, Webber and Brown initially filed separate complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2008. Those complaints failed, which opened the way for a federal lawsuit against the town.
Loving had been a school resource officer assigned to the Bluffton schools campus while Brown headed up Bluffton's traffic enforcement details. Webber worked as a detective. All three left the department for new jobs that included pay raises at the Hardeeville Police Department, where they remain employed.
In 2011 court filings, the three officers claimed racism and harassment caused them to leave the department. They allege that job postings were circulated among white officers but not minority officers. They also claimed former Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister, who retired Aug. 1 to take a private-sector job, attempted to discredit them with the Hardeeville Police Department before they joined that force in retaliation for filing the complaints.
Attempts to reach their attorney, Donald Gist of Columbia, were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Their settlement marks the second time Bluffton has paid to avoid litigation. Former Bluffton police Lt. Katherine Sours won $236,000 in two settlements to drop her lawsuits alleging the age discrimination caused her demotion and lay-off. The town paid a total of $90,000 for those settlements.
Another Bluffton police officer is also currently seeking damages in federal court. Officer Mark Dorsey, who is also enlisted in the Army National Guard, claims his calls to active duty cost him a bonus and made him a target for discipline and harassment.
Dorsey's case is pending.