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Winterville pay former clerk $10,000 in settlement


By Angela Harne
The Times-Leader
Group Editor

Thursday, August 16, 2018

WINTERVILLE — Council members voted unanimously this week to pay $10,000 to a former town clerk to settle a lawsuit accusing leaders of discrimination and unfair treatment.

The vote to pay former clerk Jasman Smith came after a brief closed session on Monday in town hall. Smith, who was fired in 2016, sued the town in U.S. District court for $2.5 million. The N.C. League of Municipalities will pay the $10,000 to Smith, said town attorney Keen Lassister.

The vote comes after a July 20 mediation led by a federal magistrate. Despite the $10,000 settlement, there is “no acknowledgment the town did anything wrong,” Lassister said.

Smith filed the lawsuit Jan. 31, 2017, alleging the town failed to promote her, discriminated against her and ultimately fired her due to her race, disability, retaliation and pregnancy.

Smith charged the discrimination against her began in August 2010 when she was placed on bed rest during a pregnancy — not in 2012 as stated in an earlier complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC concluded in November 2016 the town did not violate statutes in its handling of Smith’s employment.

In addition to the large penalty, Smith’s federal suit sought recovery of back pay since her July 5, 2016, termination, reinstatement of her former job and a trial by jury. The town requested Smith “recover nothing” and that “costs of this action be taxed against” her.

Smith was placed on probation March 1, 2016. Town Manager Terri Parker said she was fired four months later because of insubordinate behavior and violations of the town’s personnel policy.

“I believe it is in the best interests of the town to terminate your employment based on your insubordination, demonstrated inefficiency, negligence or incompetence in the performance of your duties, discourteous treatment of the public or other employees and failure to meet work standards over a period of time,” Parker said in a July 1, 2016, letter addressed to Smith.

A three-page document outlined instances where Smith failed to communicate with the town manager as directed; failed to complete the Winterville Town Council agenda packet in a timely fashion; failed to submit budget requests for the town council, elections and youth council departments; failed to provide a council member with information he requested; failed to communicate with department heads regarding the rental of the Winterville Community Room, which resulted in a double booking; failed to properly advertise the 2016-17 town’s budget hearing in the local newspaper, which resulted in the cancellation and rescheduling of the hearing; allegedly disrespected a speaker at a staff training; and allegedly placed the town seal in an area that was unattainable to the acting/deputy town clerk, which delayed town business.

Smith filed a claim of discrimination with the EEOC while she was on probation. In May 2016, Smith provided the EEOC with additional information alleging she suffered in a discriminatory work environment from 2012 to 2016.

Following her termination, Smith filed two more claims with the EEOC, including ones for harassment and retaliation. The EEOC dismissed all three claims.

As of Nov. 2, 2016, Smith had 90 days to file a lawsuit against the town. She filed a lawsuit Jan. 31, which was received Feb. 6 by the U.S. District Court.

In the suit, Smith alleged the discrimination against her began as early as August 2010, prior to a promotion to the clerk’s position, when she was placed on bed rest during a pregnancy. 

Parker named Smith the town clerk July 11, 2011. Smith successfully completed her initial probationary period Nov. 8, 2012, and completed her certified municipal clerk certification July 1, 2013.

Per Smith’s personnel file, she had “met the criteria to merit the promotion in each situation.”

She was earning $57,036 annually when she was fired.

Smith was “placed on a performance improvement plan due to numerous deficiencies in her performance … (Her) performance did not improve while she was on the performance improvement plan and ultimately (Smith’s) employment was terminated due to insubordination, demonstrated inefficiency, negligence or incompetence in the performance of duties, discourteous treatment of the public or other employees and failure to meet work standards over a period of time. It is specifically denied (Smith) was discriminated or retaliated against in any way,” according to town’s response in federal court.

The federal lawsuit also alleged Parker and Winterville Mayor Doug Jackson discriminated against Smith.

Smith also filed a discrimination complaint with the Pitt County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP. The complaint, which was filed March 9, 2016, was forwarded to the state level for review.

The town never received official notification of the NAACP complaint filed, according to Parker. The NAACP was awaiting the outcome of the federal case to determine how it will proceed, Calvin Henderson, president of the NAACP Pitt County Chapter, said at the time.

Smith joined the town of Winterville staff in July 2008 as a temporary employee through an agency. In December 2008, former town manager Bill Whisnant hired Smith as his full-time executive staff assistant. Her initial starting salary was $34,016.

Whisnant retired in 2010. Smith was named interim town clerk Nov. 29, 2010. Parker was named interim town manager around the same time period.