Clayton's suit against the county settled

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By Travis Jenkins

A lawsuit against Chester County by a former employee will not make it to court after all.

Former administrative employee and clerk to Chester County Council Carolyn Clayton sought back pay and the return of her old jobs. Clayton and a contract IT employee were fired nearly two years ago, according to a Sheriff’s Office incident report, because they “conspired to destroy a public record,” which is a misdemeanor crime. During a Chester County Council meeting that occurred just prior to her dismissal, Clayton allegedly left a recorder running as the council left its chambers to retire to executive session. Clayton then inadvertently recorded herself making disparaging comments about at least two county employees and that is the portion of the tape she later tried to delete, her attorney Jahue Moore told the News & Reporter. He contended that those comments were not part of the official meeting record and that she should not have been punished for trying to remove then.  Stuart was well within his powers to fire Clayton from her administrative job, but as the clerk, she served at the pleasure of the council. A vote was passed to suspend her with pay but no action was ever taken to actually fire her. Stuart later said that was unnecessary, since she had “retired at her own request.” Clayton’s suit alleges that after Clayton was fired from her administrative position, a retirement letter was found somewhere on her old desk. It also alleged that Stuart and County Attorney Joanie Winters had plotted to fire Clayton and the whole incident was the convenient “excuse” they used.

"The plaintiff did consider retiring from her job but never turned in a resignation...the form was kept on the plaintiff's desk in her personal affairs while she considered how to respond to the tactics of the county attorney and county administrator...as part of their plan to relieve plaintiff of her duties, agents of the defendant found the retirement form and turned it into the authorities without permission,” the suit said.

The suit said Clayton was denied access to the county’s employee grievance process, but Stuart said employees who work under an elected official are actually not entitled to a grievance hearing.

Clayton’s suit claimed that she has “been humiliated and damaged in her reputation,” had “experienced great shock and emotional distress” and “has been otherwise damaged...(and) is entitled to judgment against the defendant for actual damages."

In its response, the county argued that Clayton failed to present a sufficient cause of action, that the county is immune from suit pursuant to pertinent portions of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act and denied several of Clayton’s accusations. They did not admit to Clayton having suffered in damages, but said if she did they were caused by her own negligence. The county’s response also alleged that her claims “are time-barred, in whole or in part by the applicable statutes of limitation.”

The trial was set to begin on Monday, but a settlement was announced on Wednesday. The county itself did not choose to settle, but its insurance company did, as its right. Winters said the county was set to move forward on the case with confidence, if it had made it to court.

“Shane was not in favor of settling, but when you sign on with an insurance company, they have the right to settle when they so choose.,” Winters said.

The particulars on the financial settlement were not disclosed.