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York County Discrimination Suit Settled Out Of Court

On September 9, a sex and age discrimination lawsuit against the York County, SC Sheriff’s Department (YCSO) was dismissed after lawyers for the plaintiff, Crystal Kissel, advised that a settlement had been reached (though as of this writing, the agreement has not been finalized). Kissel had filed suit in 2018 after allegedly being forced out of her job, but the YCSO initially denied all claims. The settlement does not force YCSO to admit wrongdoing, but assuming it is finalized, the plaintiff may accept that.

Retaliation and Discrimination

Kissel had worked in the DNA lab at the YCSO for years, but resigned in 2017 before she could be terminated. She was allegedly “denied supervisory duties” because of her age and sex. She also was forced to navigate a “hostile work environment” where male employees were given preference. Perhaps most importantly, she alleged that she was “retaliated against” for refusing to perform DNA testing that would have impacted a suspect’s right to a fair trial, and for complaining about her office allegedly altering the case file.

While at this point, it is fruitless to speculate about the specific nature of the settlement agreement, it is worth noting that companies and public agencies tend to settle discrimination cases for two reasons—either to guard against the possibility of their proverbial dirty laundry being aired in a semipublic proceeding, or to make the whole problem go away. Settlement agreements are not admissions of liability in South Carolina, but it is plausible that YCSO either did permit the behavior alleged by Kissel, or simply did not want to deal with disproving her allegations in court.

If You Are Asked To Settle

While some cases do go all the way to trial, what most people are not aware of is that the majority of employment discrimination claims are settled out of court, most commonly because of a defendant not wanting the stress of a trial or a plaintiff doubting the validity of their case. If the sides can reach an agreement, it can actually save both of them money in the long run. But if you believe that a settlement offer is insufficient, you are generally not obligated to accept it.

Most settlement agreements tend to have the same handful of provisions. Examples include:

  • A non-admission of wrongdoing. In other words, a clause stating that even though a defendant may be settling, they are not doing so as an admission of guilt
  • A provision for payment or other remuneration
  • A clause where the plaintiff releases the defendant from all future claims. A settlement is designed to clear up a matter forever, not leave the door open for future lawsuits
  • Non-disparagement clauses, which require both sides not to badmouth each other in situations like requesting references or conducting business
  • A provision specifying what may happen if either side breaches the agreement

Not every settlement will include all of these items, but many do. Regardless, any settlement agreement should be vetted by an experienced employment attorney before you sign off on it.

Call A South Carolina Employment Discrimination Attorney

While it remains to be seen whether the settlement between the YCSO and Ms. Kissel will be finalized, it is important that you know what to expect in a settlement agreement if you receive one in your case. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and the firm of Hitchcock & Potts can assist you in dealing with the legal process, so that you can focus on recovery. Contact our office today to speak to an attorney.

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