A jail guard sued by two female inmates who said he sexually assaulted them.
A police officer sued after several women said they were sexually assaulted while their rape cases were being investigated.
A recreation director sued after a female co-worker said he made suggestive remarks and unwanted advances.
Those three cases are among 11 allegations, alleging sexual assault or harassment, that the state of South Carolina paid about $1.8 million, including legal costs, to settle from 2013 until June, the end of the state’s fiscal year.
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The cases range from claims involving state agencies — the state departments of Corrections and Mental Health — to claims against local governments, including Richland County.
“The governor believes that sexual harassment of any kind has absolutely no place in any workplace,” Brian Symmes, Gov. Henry McMaster’s spokesman, said Friday. “Every employer, including government, should do everything in its power to provide a safe environment where people feel comfortable and respected.”
None of the cases involve legislators, legislative leaders say.
The S.C. House Speaker’s Office said no settlements have been made in connection to allegations of sexual harassment or assault involving state representatives. However, two House lawmakers have resigned since 2015 after being accused of sexual harassment.
State Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett said the Capitol’s upper chamber has received no complaints of sexual harassment.
The settlements were paid for by the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund, which offers property and liability coverage to hundreds of state agencies and local governments that together employ more than 177,000.
Other states have paid far more to settle allegations.
The state of Florida has paid more than $11 million over 30 years to settle cases of sexual harassment filed against state agencies and universities, The Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury paid out $15.2 million between 1997 and 2014 for unspecified workplace violations, including cases involving Congress, according to The Washington Post.
The fact that Treasury secretly paid off congressional accusers has raised some eyebrows.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a similar type of mechanism (used) in other political institutions,” said Patrick Wright, director for the Center for Executive Succession at the University of South Carolina’s business school. “It’s just a way to keep political institutes from embarrassment from making public sexual allegations.”
Coercive behavior, unwanted advances
Over four years, the state has settled cases brought against several state agencies and local entities, including the S.C. Department of Corrections, the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, and Florence, Horry, Richland and Georgetown counties.
In December 2009, former Georgetown County Detention Center guard Belvin Lee Sherrill entered a jail cell with three women inside and exposed his genitals, then ordered the women to get on their knees and perform a sexual act, according to lawsuit filed in May 2011 by two of the three women.
Sherrill pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
The state Insurance Reserve Fund paid $100,000 to one woman and $50,000 to the other. Legal expenses added almost $125,000 to the state’s tab.
In Horry County, a woman, identified in a federal lawsuit as Jane Doe, said former Horry County detective Troy Allen Large engaged in a “course of coercive behavior, unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault,” while investigating her sexual assault in December 2013.
The Insurance Reserve Fund paid the woman $182,500 and spent another $65,982 to defend against the allegations. More women also have sued, making similar allegations against Large.
Last month, the Insurance Reserve Fund paid more than $120,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the Richland County Recreation Commission and its former director, James Brown III.
Andrea James, the commission’s former chief financial officer, received $53,000. The case cost the state an added $67,509 in legal expenses.
In her 2016 lawsuit, James said Brown pressured her for sex and retaliated when she complained. At least three other former commission employees also have filed similar suits.
‘A snowball effect’
Allegations of sexual harassment and assault are in the spotlight because of a flurry of similar cases nationwide.
Several high-profile men have been fired from their jobs since last month’s New York Times account detailing accusations of repeated sexual assaults and harassment by Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
This week, NBC News fired veteran “Today” show host Matt Lauer for “inappropriate behavior” in the workplace after the network received a complaint. Garrison Keillor of Minnesota Public Radio, CBS’ Charlie Rose and political analyst Mark Halperin also have been fired.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into allegations against U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and the U.S. House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
“I’ve said all along, this is like a snowball effect,” USC’s Patrick Wright said. “A lot of this stuff has been going on for years, where women were afraid to bring it forward and file a complaint, or they thought it too ambiguous ... that they had been harassed.”
Nationwide, 6,758 sexual harassment claims were reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year — down from 7,944 claims in 2010.
You can expect more, Wright said.
“I’ll be shocked if that doesn’t jump to 8,000 or 9,000.”
S.C. agencies rack up settlements
From mid-2013 to mid-2017, South Carolina has paid nearly $2 million to settle claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The settlements stems from lawsuits filed against state agencies and local governments.
▪ $1.2 million: Paid for claims against state agencies and local governments
▪ $452,637: Legal expenses paid by the state to defend against the claims
▪ 6,758: Number of sexual assault claims nationwide reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016
SOURCE: S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund